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Mani Shankar Aiyar's comment spurred NRIs to canvass for Modi

IANS  |  Houston 

When he made his now infamous comment about the recently elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi being a 'chai wala', Congress spokesperson Mani Shankar Aiyar may not have had any inkling that the comment would give an impetus to Indian Americans to launch a 'chai pe charcha' movement to help Modi win the prime ministership.

While, several Indian Americans in major cities across the United States campaigned for Modi's election, the most organized movement was in Houston, Texas, where, since January this year, a group of about 700 worked round the clock to motivate voters in India. The volunteer group intensified their efforts in the two months preceding the voting.

"The preparations were almost like that for an Indian wedding," said Ramesh Bhutada, a Houston businessman and philanthropist, who was one of the prime movers of the campaign. "We had volunteers calling up their relatives, friends and friend of friends in India."

Initially, the focus of the phone calls was to get people to participate in the voting process. Voters were told that they finally had the power to change the destiny of the country.

"Some of the voters-especially the middle aged and elderly-appeared very cynical,"Bhutada said,"They appeared convinced that nothing would ever change."

Later in the phone campaign, the volunteers asked the voters to look at Modi's candidature citing his economic development track record in Gujarat.

In addition, several hundred Indian Americans travelled to India to participate physically in the election campaign for Modi and the BJP.

"The volunteers did this for their own soul satisfaction," he said, adding that Indians in the US, who were not Indian citizens nevertheless, had a direct stake in the elections. "We may build any number of temples in the US. But our children and grandchildren will relate to their Indian heritage only if India is a strong country."

Members from several Indian American organizations like the Art of Living, Arya Samaj and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA(HSS) participated, he said.

Bhutada, who grew up in India, has been a member of the HSS since 1977 and is currently the organization's national vice president. He credits the organization for inculcating in him the virtues of discipline and the need to live a simple lifestyle.

Bhutada sees the current election results as the "third opportunity" to change the destiny of India. "We frittered away 1947(independence from the British) and 1977(the defeat of Indira Gandhi after the emergency).

He, like many Indian Americans, is unequivocal in the belief that Modi will give India a new direction, pointing to his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat. "In 2001, Gujarat faced all sorts of natural calamities from floods and droughts to earthquakes. It was a state that had almost been written off."

Bhutada who has interacted with Modi several times, said there is popular misconception that he is dictatorial. "He is decisive and has a very clear cut thought process, but in person, displays a lot of humility. His job now is to rekindle the trust elected officials have with their constituents. As long as he levels with them, and people see things changing, I am sure they will give him a long rope."

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First Published: Sat, May 31 2014. 17:16 IST