BJP’s foreign cell, the unofficial ambassadors of the party
The foreign cell was instrumental in organising big-ticket events for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, like the Madison Square reception and Howdy Modi event in Houston.
As India’s diplomatic corps set out to address questions and concerns from their international counterparts on controversial decisions such as the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into union territories and revoking its special status guaranteed under Article 370 or the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, a similar exercise was carried out by the BJP’s foreign affairs cell or the overseas cell.
Led by Vijay Chauthaiwale, the BJP’s overseas cell has come to be recognised as a key outreach arm of the party that works firmly and without delay in shoring up support for the government’s policies. These foreign cells, which are present in a host of countries across the world, were instrumental in leading campaigns with the Indian diaspora taking out marches and celebratory rallies to welcome decisions such as abrogation of Article 370.
While the government’s explanation for a communication lockdown in the three regions of the erstwhile state was to avert violence, the diaspora took to social media and to the streets with posters and placards of how the provision was discriminatory to a section of the people, including the LGBT community.
These cells act as the government’s unofficial ambassadors, trying to breakdown the rationale of policy decisions to the man on the street.
Now, as the anti-CAA protests intensify in the country, the foreign cells are back at work. Pro-CAA rallies have already been taken out in places such as California, where participants with placards ‘NRIs support CAA’, ‘CAA is all about human rights’ chose to exhibit support for the legislation that seeks to fast-track citizenship for persecuted minorities from the neighbourhood who arrived in Indian before 2014.
To counter the charge that the law is discriminatory, because it explicitly states that the provision of fast-tracking applications is limited to Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, the foreign cell has begun circulating literature on the provisions of the law.
“The Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation has drafted a white paper on the CAA, which has been circulated through email and social media to over 50,000 members. A second booklet including the testimonies of persecuted Hindus will also be circulated soon... all these are efforts to engage with people and clear the misconceptions,” said Chauthaiwale.
He said the cells are also upfront about protests against CAA in India being a democratic right of the people. “There is a small section that is protesting and it is their democratic right, but we are engaging constructively with people outside to give the other side of the story,” he said.
Citing the role played by the foreign cell soon after the abrogation of Article 370, he said, “...There is a generation of people abroad who are not conversant with the historical background of Partition, their opposition stems more from the lack of knowledge that creates confusion. So, we went out and explained how Article 370 was discriminatory and not an issue that can be viewed from the binary of Hindu-Muslim.”
In the coming days, the foreign cell, which was instrumental in organising big-ticket events of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from his Madison Square reception to the more recent Howdy Modi event in Houston, will focus more on party-to-party interactions.
In 2019, the cell had organised visits of party delegates to South Korea and China.
Chauthaiwale, who has a doctorate in microbiology and comes from a family moored in the ideology of the RSS, was picked for his current role by BJP president Amit Shah. While Chauthaiwale sees his role as an outreach mode for staying connected with diaspora, his critics complain that his role has the potential to overlap if not circumvent the diplomatic process.
He was in the news recently when a British high commission team met him to express concern that the overseas friends of BJP were seen to support the Conservative party.
“The Labour Party openly supported a resolution against India; the diaspora there tried to do a few things, but the party had nothing to do with it. We are clear that some people who were involved in campaigns there were doing so in their capacity as British nationals. We are only interested in the outcome (of the elections),” he said.
Will there be changes in store for the cell as the party heads into a new phase, with a new party president taking over the reigns? “...That depends on the new president, but for now the engagement will continue,”Chauthaiwale said.