Rush to fortify Modi in Silicon Valley

Plan to crowd out protesters

By Radhika Ramaseshan
  • Published 23.09.15
Narendra Modi pays homage to the martyrs of the 1965 war at Amar Jawan Jyoti in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Sept. 22: Khanderao Kand, Chandru Bhambhra, Romesh Japra, Raj Bhanot and Venktesh "Venk" Shukla are working overtime to see that Narendra Modi's California sojourn from September 25 to 27 goes off peacefully.

They are doing so as the Prime Minister's West Coast call-on may be marred by multiple protests from the Alliance for Justice and Accountability, the Sikh for Justice and sundry regional Patels when he addresses the Indian-American community on September 27 at the SAP Centre in San Jose after meeting Silicon Valley stars Sundar Pichai, Shantanu Narayen and Mark Zuckerberg.

The Overseas Friends of the BJP in the US - with which Modi's California response team is closely associated - has advertised a welcome declaration from the Patidar (Patel) community of the "Leuva Patidar Samaj" of northern California with a message from president Harshad Patel who described the Prime Minister as "one of the greatest leaders of the world" and as one who "cares and loves all of us".

The other Patel sect, going by the title Kaduwas, has two organisations in California but neither has come out in Modi's support so far. "While we would welcome their backing, the fact is the Leuva Patels outnumber the Kaduwas and are far more influential," said a Gujarat BJP minister engaged in the back channel "peace" talks with the US Patels.

Hardik Patel's ongoing agitation in Gujarat, demanding that Patels be clubbed with Other Backward Classes and given quotas in education and jobs, has stirred caste loyalties in the US, especially among the more recent migrants from back home.

So while the US's large pro-Modi community had braced itself for a share of slogan-shouting from the usual suspects who had weighed in on the US administration to deny him a visa earlier, a similar show from the Gujarati-speaking Patels was the last thing they anticipated.

The federal police has permitted the Alliance, the Sikhs and the Patels to assemble at a designated area outside the SAP Centre. Sources in the Overseas Friends of the BJP here networking with their US compatriots put their strength at about 5,000.

"This is a huge number because the number of Left-Liberals in the West Coast, drawn largely from Berkeley and Stanford universities, outstrip those on the East Coast. Last year, when Modiji addressed a gathering at New York's Madison Square Garden, the protesters were barely a few hundred, squeezed into alleyways off the venue. Barring a couple of Indian TV channel anchors, nobody noticed them. San Jose may be a different cup of tea," a source said.

To contain the prospect of the protests overshadowing the community reception, the organisers have enrolled over and above the 18,500 capacity of the hall where Modi will speak.

Those who cannot be packed inside will be housed outside where large screens will be put up. The organisers hope the crowds outside will outnumber the protesters and ensure that Modi remains the evening's rock star, something he was likened to after the Madison event.

Kand and his associates who have put together the nuts and bolts of Modi's Silicon Valley stop-over are not all Gujarati-speaking or share the same profession. What binds them is their RSS provenance.

Kand is the founder-president of Global Indian Technology Professionals of India and principal technologist at Gauvas in California's Cupertino where he works on its Big Data Analytics Platform.

He is on the board of Samskritam Bharati, an institute that conducts an MA programme in Sanskrit in collaboration with Mysore's Karnataka State Open University.

Bhambhra, a Patel, used to helm the BJP's Overseas Friends in the US and is a Fremont-based realtor. Bhambhra hosted a chai pe charcha (discussion over tea) to drum up support for Modi when he was the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in April 2014.

Japra, a cardiologist, is the founder and chairman of the Fremont Hindu Temple while Bhanot was the Bay Area president of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, an RSS offshoot, and a founder-member of the Sunnyvale Temple.

In June 2014, Bhanot had a run-in with classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal. At a concert in which Shubha sang, he confronted her for her alleged anti-Modi, anti-Hindu stand and later said he was "forced" to take her on because of Internet pressure asking why the temple had permitted her to sing. Venk Shukla is a Silicon Valley techie.