Washington, DC – The United States has granted a free-for-all for visiting foreign leaders of all political creeds to campaign on US soil, as India gears up for national polls in 2014. With an impressive line-up of incumbent ministers and opposition party members making a beeline to the US to woo NRIs (non-resident Indians), usually for election finances, the US State Department clarified that there were no US regulations prohibiting political candidates from campaigning in the US.
Responding to a question from India America Today, Marie Harf, the Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department, told journalists at the daily briefing on August 13, “There are no specific State Department regulations about political candidates from other countries traveling to or campaigning in the United States for foreign elective positions.”
Harf cited the First Amendment of the US constitution and the much-respected freedom of speech and expression in the country.
The latest to visit the US is the firebrand “anti-corruption” crusader Anna Hazare, who, although he is keeping away from the political wing “Aam Adami Party” launched by his close aide Arvind Kejriwal, is receiving a red carpet welcome during his two-week visit to the US.
During his stay, Hazare is scheduled to crisscross the country after leading India’s Independence Day parade in New York, attended by thousands, will ring the bell at the stock exchange headquarters of NASDAQ, and have dinner with South Carolina Indian American Governor Nikki Haley, whose Sikh parents migrated from Punjab, a rich prosperous northern state of India.
The US State Department, however, hasn’t opened its doors for Hazare. Spokesperson Harf said, “He (Hazare) has no meetings scheduled with State Department officials during his visit.”
Hazare will, however, hobnob with US lawmakers on Capitol Hill, visit the United Nations headquarters, and meet with students and academicians in San Francisco, Maryland, at the University of Pennsylvania in Wharton and at Columbia University.
The purpose of Hazare’s trip to the US has not been revealed and it is unknown who is financing the two-week trip.
Earlier, Rajnath Singh, the National President of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which has resisted naming a candidate from among its many leaders, attended an event on The Hill regarding Afghanistan, raising many eyebrows. Most media reports cite him as lobbying for a visa for the deeply divisive politician and successful Chief Minister of the Western Indian state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who was greeted at a recent BJP meeting in India with a standing ovation and chants for him to become prime minister.
Modi has been praised as an efficient manager who has brought high growth and development to his state. However, the US refuses to issue him a visa because the Hindu nationalist politician stands accused of looking the other way in 2002 when Hindu mobs rampaged through Muslim neighborhoods in his state, leaving more than 1,100 people dead.
The lack of a visa since 2005, when the US refused him a diplomatic visa, has not deterred Modi from making gainful inroads into the US. Major events are being organized by the rich and vibrant Gujarati community, allowing Modi to speak long distance by video connectivity.
Modi began his public relations campaign in 2008 at the World Gujarati Conference, where he addressed thousands in the Gujarati community, and he has continued to participate in similar events. In May of this year, Modi spoke to audiences in dozens of cities simultaneously. The intensification of his virtual connection highlights the importance of NRIs for the BJP in general and Modi in particular.
The congress-led ruling majority coalition UPA was attacked by Modi recently, when he said, “Congress is destroying the country like termites. It is very difficult to deal with termites, you finish them in one place and they rise in another.”
There is some truth in the attacks, as Congress, after winning the last two national elections, is in a vulnerable situation because of slowdown in economic growth and a barrage of corruption scandals involving the top brass of the party.
Rahul Gandhi may follow the path of staying behind the throne like his mother Sonia Gandhi, who wields the power while Manmohan Singh runs the country as prime minister. Sonia, of Italian descent and the widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was in the US last year for cancer treatment.
Karan Singh, one of the top Congress leaders, was in the US recently and the party’s American supporters organized events in New York and Washington, DC to mobilize support for the 2014 elections under the banner, “Chalo India (Lets Go to India),” for the upcoming elections.
President Barack Obama will soon be playing host to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and during the visit, the Congress party is set to lobby Indian Americans on a large scale to join hands with the ruling party.
With uncertainty over the outcome of the 2014 Indian National elections as Congress struggles to kickstart decelerating economic growth, and with other parties in disarray, the chances of a long and protracted election campaign are bright and so is the need for cash to sustain it; hence the value of non-resident Indians and Indian Americans who feel a strong bond with their homeland.