If you are an Indian living abroad and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to make his speech-to-NRIs in an arena near you, what are the chances that you can be part of the audience?
Slim, if you are not affiliated to a “community organisation”. Because “80 to 90 per cent of the tickets or passes go through this channel,” says Vijay Chauthaiwale.
A swayamsevak who trained and worked as a molecular biologist until he joined the BJP, Chauthaiwale heads its foreign policy department. Along with general secretary Ram Madhav, he plays a key role in organising the PM’s NRI outreach.
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Only “10-15 per cent” of the audience, he says, enter the event directly. There is a web-based reservation system and registration is through community organisations which are “key contact points for us to reach out to the diaspora”.
The filtering of the audience, or setting of norms that govern inclusion and exclusion in it, is part of a process that was first put in place for the sell-out NRI extravaganza organised at the Madison Square Garden in September 2014 — Chauthaiwale speaks of the “MSG template”.
The drill, now in place for any NRI event that Modi addresses anywhere in the world, kicks in when Chauthaiwale comes to know that the PM is likely to visit a country. He goes and meets leaders of diverse community organisations in the area, and usually makes another trip before the event.
“For Silicon Valley, my first trip was made 3-4 months in advance, and for London too. But for Toronto, I went only 6 weeks before.”
Through wide-ranging interaction with individuals and meetings with groups, the effort is to “understand the dynamic of the diaspora” and to convey a message: “This will be your event, not a BJP event”.
It is all made complicated by the fact that the diaspora is not united, but divided according to region, language, religion, and profession. In Toronto, 300 organisations registered. Some 400 community organisations have come on board for the next event at Silicon Valley and 450 have registered for November’s event in London.
The effort is also to set up a non-profit specific to the event, to install an organising committee and ensure that a leadership emerges within. “Once this structure is in place, I back off,” says Chauthaiwale. “But I am still in touch… I help in coordination with the PMO. The embassy is there, but we facilitate.”
The organising committee has 7-8 sub-committees: for the cultural event, fund-raising, ticketing, venue logistics, volunteer mobilisation, and media and communication.
Made up of members of prominent community organisations, it is also the task and responsibility of the organising committee to verify community organisations that seek registration. To cross-check, a database of organisations is also available at the embassies.
“We try to weed out the fakes,” says Chauthaiwale. A unique code is given to each community organisation which they share with their members who use it to register on the website.
Typically, the demand exceeds the number of seats available. So, each community organisation gets a quota based on its prominence. Registration is opened for individuals only after the community quotas are filled up.
Entry passes are non-transferable and, as at an airport, must be presented along with a photo identity card.
The ticket is free, and for funding, contributions are invited from corporates and individuals. “We set a cap on donations which varies, based on total expenses. We encourage small amounts, of 20-25 dollars, so that it genuinely becomes a community event.”
The common and elaborate drill may also have another effect. In the visuals from Madison Square Garden, Toronto, Shanghai, Sydney and Dubai, the crowds looked uniformly exultant — too uniformly so? Chauthaiwale brushes away any suggestion of choreography or orchestration. At every place, he insists, the audience is different and presents a different challenge to the organisers.
In Silicon Valley, on the one side are the so-called techies, CEOs of IT companies, and on the other side, the conventional businessmen and community leaders. Here, Chauthaiwale says, the challenge is to bridge the chasm between these two sets of NRIs who seldom feel the need to come together.
London though will be smoother. Because of the presence of a large number of Gujaratis who, he says, “have been waiting for Modiji’s first visit”.