Non-Residents Punjabis return to participate in the Elections
They may have a minuscule number of votes in Punjab, but non-resident Indians from the state are coming home in droves to support the political party of their choice. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) volunteers from Canada are taking a chartered flight from Toronto that will land in New Delhi in the wee hours of January 19.
Indian Overseas Congress too is planning to ferry a planeload of supporters from the US in the coming weeks. Never before have NRIs come home for the polls in such large numbers.
Gurmeet Singh Gill, president of Indian Overseas Congress in the US, will also be taking a break from his chain of gas stations to lead an NRI march in Punjab. “We have 27 units in the US and we plan to charter a plane so that we can all land together, and tour Punjab in a fleet of buses,” says the New York-based Gill.
Jaskirat Mann, the country convener for AAP in Canada, who has been campaigning in the Malwa belt for the last three months, is now accompanied by a team of evangelical NRIs, who registered for the party’s ‘Chalo Punjab’ campaign. “I tell people how my husband and I were able to set up a transport business in Canada because of the processes there, and how AAP will replicate those here and ensure good governance,” says the articulate former captain of her BEd college at Lopon near Moga, who migrated to Canada in 2002. They also “convert” the dedicated cadre of other parties.
Akalis abroad have also launched an ‘Aao Punjab Chaliye’ movement, says Satpal Singh Brar, chief spokesman of the SAD in Washington DC.
This surge follows the 2014 parliamentary polls in which NRIs played a crucial role in the victory of greenhorn AAP candidates, contributing both funds and manpower.
Jaspal ‘Jassi’ Khangura, a Congressman who was the first NRI to be elected to the Punjab assembly with tremendous support from the diaspora, says NRIs do influence voters. “But there are degrees of influence. People who emigrated five to eight years ago and were politically active here, carry far more influence than those who left 20 years ago.”
Cynics says polls are a drama for the NRIs in which they get to play the neta. “Ask them whether they will return if their party of choice comes to power, and their answer will be a resounding ‘no’,” says an Akali candidate.
Jaskirat Mann admits she has no plans to return for good. “But that doesn’t stop me from working for Punjab.”.