The sunny Sunday morning in San Francisco happened to be St. Patrick’s Day. But the crowd of around 30 mostly middle-aged men didn’t unite by wearing green, but saffron — specifically, bright orange t-shirts branded with “NAMO AGAIN,” shorthand for Indian Prime Minister “Narendra Modi again.” Each shirt was emblazoned with a white lotus flower, symbolizing India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
They lined up at the edge of the lookout point’s parking lot and introduced themselves one by one, as the Golden Gate Bridge peaked above their heads. A fellow team member recorded their introductions on his cellphone. Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali, Tamil, and so on. They spoke in their native tongues but ended with a common Hindi refrain: Main bhi chowkidar. “I too am a watchman.”
The phrase is Modi’s campaign slogan in India’s general election this year, a multi-phase voting process that started April 11 and lasts until May 19. With campaign season underway, the members of the Northern California chapter of the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), the international arm of India’s Hindu nationalist party, had gathered to showcase their leanings.
Their priority: making sure their support for Modi reverberated from their karma bhoomi to their janma bhoomi. “You are born there, that is your janma bhoomi. Here, you are working, that is your karma bhoomi,” chapter coordinator Chandru Bhambhra told me, using Hindi to describe the land of birth and the land of work, respectively. “Both places are very important. So we should be nationalist to both,” he continued. His definition of a nationalist, he said, is one who puts the nation first.