By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh–The poll season is a busy time for politicians and certainly not for vacationing. But for Punjab’s political leaders, it is also the time for foreign trips. The reason – wooing the strong Punjabi NRI network in other countries.
Punjab, which has a considerable NRI population settled in Australia, Britain, Canada, Malaysia and the US, as also in European countries, sees an important and active role by its diaspora in elections – whether for the assembly or parliament.
Punjab Congress president and former chief minister Amarinder Singh embarked on a 20-day trip to the United States and Canada on Tuesday.
“It is important to engage the NRIs. I will be meeting several groups of NRIs during the trip,” Amarinder Singh, who will be joined by other Congress leaders during the trip, said before leaving for the US.
“He will hold meetings with the Punjabi diaspora in various cities in the two countries. The main places he would be visiting include Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco in the US and Toronto and Vancouver in Canada,” Amarinder Singh’s media adviser, Vimal Sumbly, told IANS.
Amarinder Singh’s wife and former union minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur had, last month, travelled to Australia and New Zealand to meet the Punjabi NRIs settled there. She visited Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia and Auckland in New Zealand – all with a substantial Punjabi population. She even inaugurated the 29th Australian Sikh Games in Brisbane.
“The Punjabi Diaspora has strong links to their native state. They keenly follow the politics of Punjab. Many of them liberally fund political parties and leaders, especially during election time,” Anoop Singh, a native of Jalandhar district who is now settled in Birmingham, told IANS.
Though people from most parts of Punjab have migrated to other countries during the last eight decades, the Doaba belt (area between Beas and Sutlej rivers) is famous for the number of NRIs that it has. The belt comprises Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Nawanshahr districts.
“That the NRIs from Punjab are quite politically active in countries like Canada, the United States and Britain — where they have been elected to legislatures, some of them have become ministers, premiers and governors of states and others have been mayors –shows that the Punjabi community is dynamic – be it in India or anywhere else,” Harjit Gill, a former mayor of Gloucestershire, who hails from Jalandhar, told IANS.
The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and Punjab’s newest political force, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), have sent delegations to Canada and the United States in the past six months. More such trips are likely to these countries, and even Australia and Malaysia, in the coming months to woo the NRIs for funds and votes.
“The NRIs have a lot of influence on people (read voters) in their respective villages and towns. The NRI money also helps a lot. Many NRIs time their visit to Punjab in such a way as to coincide with the polls,” Amritsar-based businessman Aman Khanna pointed out.
With the AAP, which is gaining ground in Punjab and had won four Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general election, and the opposition Congress, which has engaged political strategist Prashant Kishor (who helped Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the 2015 Bihar polls), breathing down the neck of the Akali Dal-BJP alliance in the state, Punjab’s assembly election will be a tough three-cornered one.
Polls for the state’s 117 assembly seats are scheduled for February. The Akali Dal-BJP alliance has been in power in the state since 2007.