The efforts by the organisers to show that the reception for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden was an event organised by all sections of the Indian community has led to deep divisions and heartburn among Sangh Parivar organisations in the US.
Many senior activists and leaders associated with various Parivar outfits feel let down by those who coordinated the event from New Delhi, particularly Piyush Goel, minister of state for power, and Hiren Joshi, officer on special duty at the Prime Minister’s Office. According to a person closely associated with the Indian American Community Foundation (IACF), under whose aegis the event was organised, the appointment of Bharat Barai as the chief of IACF is the bone of contention. He said Barai, who was not initially part of the event management, was parachuted into IACF by Goel, alienating a powerful section led by Mahesh Mehta, a scientist and Sangh Parivar patriarch in the US.
Mehta, 78, shares cordial relations with Modi, as both of them had attended the same shakha in Gujarat and grown up under the tutelage of late Laxmanrao Inamdar, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) prant pracharak about whom Modi had written about in his book Jyotipunj. Mehta, senior to Modi in the Sangh, had worked as a pracharak for some time before he migrated to the US in 1969. He is the founder of the first overseas branch of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in 1970 in the US. He is currently vice-president of VHP International. Besides, he played the leading role in starting RSS clone in the US – Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. He was instrumental in starting a dozen other organisations such as Hindu Students Council, Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP), Sewa International and Indians for Democracy (set up to campaign against Emergency clamped by former PM Indira Gandhi). He has been a key fund-raiser for the Sangh Parivar organisations.
Mehta is also heading the Global Indians for Bharat Vikas (GIBV), set up in September 2013 to spear head Modi’s election campaign and to further his development agenda overseas.
Mehta, who shared good rapport with many Sarsanghchalaks and top RSS leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani, is said to have played an important role in building consensus within the Parivar in favour of Modi before his selection as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP. He successfully managed to blunt VHP leader Pravin Togadia’s opposition to Modi, using his rapport with Ashok Singhal.
Besides, about 2,000 volunteers of GIBV had campaigned for Modi in the general elections. It sent about 750 volunteers to work in India. Also it deployed 5,000 volunteers, recruited from across India, to coordinate the campaign. It had organised telephone campaign and contacted 1.3 million voters to vote for the BJP. It had also mounted a Facebook page and connected with about 15 million Indians.
According to the source, Modi had in June conveyed to Mehta about his visit to the US and entrusted the latter with the task of organising the event. The PM had also instructed that IACF should not collect more than $ 1 million from an individual and the balance amount after the event should be given to some charity. In the meanwhile, Mehta was admitted to hospital following illness, but the committee appointed by him was on the job, claimed the source.
However, the whole equation changed after Goel was deputed to coordinate the event. “Using Maheshbhai’s illness as an excuse, he brought in Barai, much to chagrin of many committed workers of the Sangh. Besides, Maheshbhai was insulted also and pushed to the sidelines,” said the source. When the situation started worsening, Haren Joshi called up Mehta and asked him to play second fiddle to Barai.
When things threatened to blow up, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav was sent to the US in the third week of July to broker peace between the factions. A meeting was held at the Indian consulate, in which the Indian Ambassador to the US was also present. But Madhav’s mediation only rubbed salt into the wounds. “Madhav had sought our support and assured that the complaints would be looked into after the event. But this assurance means nothing,” said the source. “Those who opposed Modiji all these years are now at the forefront of welcoming him. The committed workers are given a raw deal to show that the event is a broad-based one. Even OFBJP has been asked to play a second fiddle.”
Barai’s rivals are also in a Catch-22 situation. They cannot boycott or show opposition, as it would be seen as they are opposing Modi. “He is our hero and we want to see to it that the event is a success.”