Rahul New York

Rahul Gandhi speaking at U.C. Berkeley as part of his U.S. tour. He recently spoke at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and is scheduled to address a public meeting Sept. 20 in New York. (Som Sharma/India-West photo) 

NEW YORK — Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi is scheduled to address a public meeting here Sept. 20 arranged by the party's overseas wing as part of its push to enlist non-resident Indians.

Gandhi, who is touring the U.S., spoke Sept. 18 in Washington, D.C. at the pro-Democratic think tank, Center for American Progress, which was founded by John Podesta, who has served as Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman and former U.S. President Bill Clinton's chief of staff.

Gandhi also met Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.

The Congress party leader is scheduled to address a meeting Sept. 19 at Princeton University in New Jersey. Organized by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center of International Security Studies, the event is restricted to the university community.

The New York meeting at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square caps Gandhi's U.S. visit with an interaction with the general public, a strategy devised by Sam Pitroda, who was appointed chairman of the Congress party's overseas department, to expand its NRI ranks.

Shudh Parkash Singh, president of the Indian National Overseas Congress wing in the U.S., told IANS he was organizing the meeting for Gandhi so "NRIs can know first-hand what his (Gandhi's) vision is, what his ideology is and Congress is." 

"We wanted him to have meetings with people, face-to-face, in order to turn around (his) image projected by the BJP through managed media. They are out to destroy his image and we are trying to do the opposite."

Singh said the event is financed entirely by the INOC, supplemented with contributions from sponsors and advertisers in a brochure published for the event.

Gandhi's visit to New York City coincides with the U.N. General Assembly's annual high-level session, during which global leaders convene for meetings in the U.N. and elsewhere in the city.

Asked if Gandhi planned to meet any of the visiting leaders, Singh said he would not. "His New York visit is exclusive for our event." 

Singh said that he and an INOC delegation met Gandhi in Delhi in April and invited him to the U.S. They then coordinated with Pitroda, who set up the meeting, he added.

Gandhi's visit is part of Pitroda's plan to harness NRI support for the party – a strategy that has been a success for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

While the Congress has large base among academics, intellectuals and the media, the BJP has been able to create a much broader support base among NRIs, mobilizing several thousands to attend Modi's meetings in New York and San Jose in mammoth arenas.

A PowerPoint presentation circulated by Pitroda calls for expanding the current network of 18 overseas party cells to 50 with a focus on major global cities in the U.S., U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Britain, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kuwait, Mauritius and Canada.

The plan is to create a network to connect NRIs to party leaders at state and district levels and to help returning NRIs enter Indian politics.

Besides Pitroda, Congress Party leaders Milind Deora and Shashi Tharoor were among the facilitators for the U.S. visit.

Gandhi's program started on the West Coast with a Sept. 11 speech at the University of California, Berkeley where he defended dynastic politics.

In California, he also met with leading Silicon Valley venture capitalists, including Vinod Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems; Ram Shriram, founding board member of Google; and Sanjay Subhedar, according to a tweet from Deora.

Gandhi also visited the electric car manufacturer Tesla.

In Los Angeles, he was a guest of Nicolas Berggruen, who runs an investment company and a think tank, and met with leaders from Hollywood and the entertainment industry, Deora tweeted.

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