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STAFFORD – Every vote matters,” noted Viral Desai, a BAPS volunteer. Desai was ending his remarks at the weekly assembly at the local BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Stafford, Texas, to encourage his fellow members to vote in the upcoming national elections.
As a Hindu organization with 95 mandirs across the United States, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha conducted a nationwide voter education and registration drive this year to coincide with the U.S. Presidential election. “Our faith teaches us that all individuals have a duty to be active and contributing members of the communities we live in. One aspect of that duty is to participate in the democratic process by voting,” said Desai.
Krupa Shah, who volunteered her time to help register voters, noted that the response at her local BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Chino Hills, California, was overwhelming. “Visitors view the mandir as an extension of their homes, and so when the mandir encourages us to vote, it comes with a stamp of approval that really resonates,” Shah added. “Beyond this, simple things, like translators who could help individuals fill out voter registration forms encouraged people to register to vote.”
The voter registration and education drives were planned to maximize their reach. For example, they were often held on large Hindu holidays, which attract worshippers who only attend services on high holidays.
As part of BAPS’ voter education and registration drives, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, shared a nonpartisan message with BAPS congregations across the United States asking them to exercise their civic responsibility and vote in the upcoming election. “[T]he United States has provided our community a new and welcoming home with incredible opportunities to grow and achieve success in all realms. Given these great opportunities, it is our responsibility to complete our civic duty by voting in the national elections on Tuesday, November 8, 2016,” said His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj in a message that will reach hundreds of individuals who visit BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha mandirs for Diwali and the Hindu New Year, which fall on October 30th and 31st this year.
Under His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj’s leadership, BAPS is committed to exploring opportunities for encouraging civic participation. Jigar Amin, a BAPS volunteer, explained, “I was concerned that, even beyond the voter registration drive, the community may need even more signals to turn out and vote, so I thought, why not make the mandir a polling place?” As a result, for the first time, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, in Stafford, Texas will serve as a polling place in an official election. He added, “It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this step: it is a more direct means to encourage the South Asian community to vote.”