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Indo-Canadians join campaign for India election

Surrey truck driver Gurpal Dhillon comes home from work, picks up the phone and dials a number in India – where the battle for the world’s largest democracy is under way. Somebody answers the phone and Mr. Dhillon begins to talk about the Aam Aadmi, or “Common Man” Party, which is campaigning with an anti-corruption platform.

Mr. Dhillon and other Indo-Canadians in Metro Vancouver are pitching in to urge contacts in India to get out and vote, and also to encourage others in Canada to help out with campaign donations. The hotly contested vote, which began April 7, will end next Monday. Results will be announced May 16.

Aditya Tawatia, an organizer for Overseas Friends of BJP, which supports the party largely expected to win the election, said organizers in Canada have influence in India. “We live in a very big and developed country … when we talk, people in India listen.”

Mr. Dhillon, one of 50 or so volunteers with the Aam Aadmi Party’s B.C. support group, said he tries to make several calls each evening. Aam Aadmi Party supporters around the world have access to a database of Indian phone numbers collected by the party in India and assembled on its website.

Mr. Dhillon said the party’s secular values and anti-corruption policies appeal to many people in the West.

“We have supporters who are very old, as well as some supporters who are born in Canada and have only been to India once or twice. They’ve been born and bred right here in Canada but they still like the secular values of this party and they’re supporting it,” he said.

Mr. Dhillon said local Indo-Canadians have assisted “by calling their relatives and friends in India and impressing upon them the idea that it’s time to try a different political party.”

The group organized a convention in Surrey in February which drew a crowd of several hundred people, and they had a booth at the Vaisakhi parades last month in Surrey and Vancouver, where they handed out pamphlets and T-shirts with the Aam Aadmi logo.

The group has also encouraged Indians in B.C. who do not have Canadian citizenship to donate funds to the Aam Aadmi Party through their website. India does not allow dual citizenship, and only those with a valid Indian passport can donate money to political parties in the country.

Canada currently ranks third in donations to the Aam Aadmi Party from outside India – more than $170,000 has been donated by non-resident Indians in Canada.

The right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also has a faithful following in the Lower Mainland.

Mr. Tawatia, a local real estate agent and president of the Vancouver chapter of the Overseas Friends of BJP, said he and other members use their social and business networks in the Indo-Canadian community to spread awareness of the party.

“Our role is just to talk to people, to let them know about BJP in India, and if they can ask their friends and their relatives to vote for BJP in India.”

Mr. Tawatia said BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi “makes things happen.”

Praveen Goel, another member of the Overseas Friends of BJP in Vancouver, said he uses social media to communicate with friends and family in India. He said the group’s purpose is to educate people based on what it can see from an outside perspective of Indian politics.

“We all have ties back home, and we talk to people and we are in many ways leaders and people listen to us.”


Mr. Tawatia and Mr. Goel believe a BJP government would mean better business opportunities between the nations – and between India and British Columbia specifically.

“India has a huge market and need for energy, specifically LNG. Growing up in India I know we used to use LNG for cooking food,” said Mr. Goel, referring to liquefied natural gas.

“If we see a change in the business environment in India, it will help B.C. [and] it will help the people who are here in the Indian community.”