Raising the political stakes

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Jospephs Gate

The Overseas Friends of the BJP say they are the political movement that will change the game down under

“The Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP) is the first attempt by the Indian community in Australia to have a political organisation that will attempt to bring the two polities (India, Australia) together. So far we’ve only had community and cultural associations promoting the interests of the Indian community. We think there is a vacuum, and we’d like to take matters to an entirely different level,” says OFBJP Australia’s Convenor Rahul Jethi.

The Indian election results have created the most conducive circumstances for an organisation like the OFBJP, which owes its existence to social and political factors both in India and overseas. “Our aim is to correct the image of India in Australia, and educate Indians about Australia,” says Balesh Singh Dhankar, President, OFBJP Australia.

The BJP’s victory has stirred the hopes and ambitions of its supporters in the local Indian diaspora, and the community’s old agendas and aspirations have received renewed vigour and intensity. “The Indian community in Australia needs a large organisation supporting the Indian voice in this country,” says Vice President Pururaj Rathore.

Convenor Jethi says, “OFBJP is the first pan-Australian organisation that aims to unite Indians irrespective of region, culture or language. Every Australian city has a branch of OFBJP, and the OFBJP welcomes all communities.”

It is common knowledge now that the OFBJP was actively involved in campaigning for the BJP in the recent elections. Although just under a year old, the OFBJP organised 15 major events across Australia to promote the interests of the BJP and win support among the Indian and wider community in Australia. It might not be incorrect to say that never before has an Indian election stirred the entire Indian community in Australia with such intensity and on this scale. The exponential growth of the Indian community in Australia, the global Indian diaspora, Australia’s increasing interest in trade with India have all put their stamp on the organisation’s political ambitions. The OFBJP is possibly also the first overseas Indian political organisation using modern technology to build a formal and systematic relationship with the parent organisation in India.

The Indian elections were the preparatory stage for this enterprise and its vision of closer interaction between India, Australia and the political parties of both the countries. OFBJP’s women’s cell head Poonam Sharma says that apart from encouraging women to join the organisation, the OFBJP also tries to effect change in attitudes to women in India. Poonam says that the women’s cell has been having discussions with the BJP with a view to encourage increased representation of women in the labour force in India.

“The founder members of the OFBJP and the members of the committee first met each other through the OFBJP,” says Jethi. “All of us have the same political values, and we’ve always been supporters of the BJP in India. We were all looking for like-minded people to form an organisation to promote our party here,” he explains. “We believe in a cause. We want to protect the rights of Indians and give the community a political voice here in Australia,” says Dhankar.

Jethi says BJP supporters like him have always been drawn to the Liberal Party in Australia, since they are both “centre right” parties but “I decided to form the OFBJP only after I decided to become a citizen of Australia in 2010”.

“Our organisation is a social movement. It is not about individuals, nor is it a community association. We are a political organisation,” says Dhankar. Vice President Rathore says, “Our work has only just begun. We aim to have greater influence on policy making in both the countries, on matters of mutual interest.” Rathore says that the OFBJP is determined to work towards creating mechanisms that will be more responsive to international students. “The Indian government’s response to the attacks on Indian students in Australia was far from satisfactory, and the local Indian community too couldn’t do anything much. We want this to change.”

The OFBJP is also the voice of a new generation of Indians in Australia. Although the organisation has supporters from all age groups, many of the founder members and other active supporters are young professionals who migrated to Australia in the late ’90s or in the last decade. The Indian community itself is showing signs of diverging interests and agendas. Many recent immigrants says that they feel alienated from the associations and ideas of those who came to Australia two or three decades ago. The fact that India and Australia have both changed significantly, and the young Indian immigrant today is more transnational than previous generations of Indian immigrants means that the Indian community in Australia is likely to see changes within the community that could also shape the nature of the community’s involvement with Australian politics.

The OFBJP plans to be involved with ministerial and other official delegations visiting India from Australia, and Australia from India. The organisation is also working on gaining more recognition from Indian diplomats in Australia, with the aim of being the main point of contact between Indian diplomats and the local Indian diaspora.

The coming months and years will tell if the OFBJP will be able to realise its ambitions. If it escapes the fate of most Indian associations that would be another unmistakable sign of the growing influence of the global phenomenon called the Indian diaspora.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Newspaper in Sydney)

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