India's general election fever rolled into the UK on Saturday, with the overseas units of rivals BJP and Congress organising separate car rallies to garner support from the sizeable Indian diaspora in the country. The Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP), the BJP's overseas unit, flagged off its campaign with European racing champion Advait Deodhar being part of the rally, in which hundreds of cars took to the streets of London, Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester, Edinburgh and Newcastle.
The rival Congress' overseas unit, Indian Overseas Congress (IOC) UK, launched its rally from west London to cover Birmingham, Coventry and Slough before assembling back in south-west London. OFBJP President Kuldeep Shekhawat said: "There are around 10,000 Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in the UK who are actively or passively participating in this world's biggest dance of democracy, the Indian general election 2019".
"The central message is consistent worldwide – to support 'Team Modi' for a clean sweep in the elections. This rally marks the first major Team UK effort to spread the message among the Indian diaspora and get them involved in the campaign," he said. The OFBJP rally, involving NAMO T-shirts and BJP flags, was coordinated by several local party units.
The London rally drove past the iconic monuments like Houses of Parliament and the Tower Bridge as well as heavily Indian-populated areas of Wembley and Southall before gathering for an event expected to be attended by local British MPs such as Conservative Party MP Bob Blackman and Labour Party MP Seema Malhotra. The IOC UK rally, headed by President Kamalpreet Singh Dhaliwal, involved en-route plans for a large gathering in Birmingham and then at the final meeting point in west London.
The group had hoped to get Congress Party campaign leader Priyanka Gandhi to address the event, but said the plans had to be changed once the Election Commission of India announced the election dates last week. "The theme of our campaign is to bring back Indian glory by bringing back the Congress party and to enthuse the Indian diaspora in the UK to influence their family members with this message to save Indian democracy," said IOC UK spokesperson Sudhakar Goud.
The rallies, which attracted hundreds of local volunteers and supporters from both the parties, are set to give way to other diaspora events as the election campaign builds up towards the first phase of polling on April 11. As part of the so-called "NRI4NaMo" initiative around the world, triggered by the head of the party's foreign policy wing Vijay Chauthaiwale, OFBJP UK has plans for a so-called "Run For Modi" and a Kavi Sammelan in early April besides ongoing social media drives.
IOC UK said its social media focus will be on "countering fake news being circulated by Modi social media team" and the organisation also plans a series of gatherings, with hundreds of its volunteers set to travel to India to join the grassroots campaign.
(With inputs from agencies.)