More than 5,000 Narendra Modi supporters, enlisted from the Indian diaspora in Britain, would soon be visiting various parts of India to campaign for the BJP's prime ministerial candidate.
Amit Tiwari, general secretary of the UK unit of Overseas Friends of BJP, told HT volunteers
from various British cities had been contacting his office "in droves". The volunteers---bankers, doctors, IT professionals and shopkeepers, some of them already in India---would be sent at intervals before the elections, he said.
"We organise sessions in London to train them about conducting a constructive campaign," Tiwari said. A majority of these volunteers are Gujaratis, driven by buzz around Modi's candidature. They would be concentrating on states, such as Odisha, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, southern and north-eastern states, where the scope for expanding BJP's support base is high.
Tiwari, a finance professional, said most of the volunteers had been born in India and had migrated to Britain since the 1970s and included doctors and IT professionals who had moved to London during the last decade. The younger enthusiasts would be part of BJP's social media campaign.
Tiwari said the Indian diaspora mainly comprises large communities with origins in Gujarat and Punjab. The Overseas Friends of BJP has a large support base in both, especially the Gujarati community. Its president Laloobhai Parekh is from Gujarat.
Many of the volunteers are from Leicester, which has a sizable number of people from Gujarat and has a formal twinning agreement with Rajkot.
"Narendrabhai symbolises the pride of Gujaratis across the world," said a businessman in Leicester.
What drives the volunteers? Tiwari said the forthcoming elections are crucial, as there "is anger and concern about the future of India".
"There is a feeling among the volunteers that we have to do something and many ask if the India story is coming to an end," he added.
After over a decade of uneasy relations following the 2002 Gujarat riots, Britain officially warmed up to Modi in March 2013, when foreign office minister Hugo Swire travelled to Ahmedabad to meet him and sign a 20-year agreement to supply liquefied natural gas to the state.
Swire said during the visit: "My visit has been the logical next step since our decision to re-engage with the democratically elected leadership of this important state. I am confident that active engagement is the best way to pursue British interests in Gujarat."
There were protests when Modi visited London in 2003 and his scheduled visit in 2005 was called off purportedly for security reasons.
There was much opposition again from human rights groups when some British MPs invited Modi to address the House of Commons in 2013 on the future of India. Modi has not yet accepted the invitation.
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