Visits by political delegations to woo the Punjabi diaspora settled abroad have begun in earnest giving an indication of the political parties in Punjab getting into the poll mode for 2017 assembly elections.
While a Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) delegation is already in North America and Aam Admi Party (AAP) MP, Bhagwant Mann has just returned from a tour of Canada, proposals have been mooted within the Congress too to send senior leaders to engage with the NRIs from the state.
The NRIs from Punjab, especially from the Doaba region, have played a major role in elections in Punjab and lately with the proliferation of social media and deeper penetration of local news, they have been increasingly involved in the politics of their home state.
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It is therefore no wonder that political leaders from all parties feel the need to get in touch with the NRIs living abroad, if not on party forum than on individual basis. Apart from USA, Canada and United Kingdom, Punjabi NRIs in Australia are also emerging as a big community.
SAD delegation comprising its ministers Sohan Singh Thandal and Surjit Singh Rakhra are already in USA long with Member of Parliament, Balwinder Singh Bhunder.
This delegation is on a visit to improve the image of SAD among the Punjabis living abroad and apart from visiting various cities in USA, they would also be visiting Canada. SAD MLA from Bholath, Bibi Jagir Kaur, whose constituency is NRI dominated, is also headed to Canada after the Punjab and Haryana High Court cleared her visit.
Senior Congress leader and MLA Rana Gurmit Sodhi told The Indian Express that there had been proposals mooted by a section of partymen that the Congress too should send leaders to woo the NRIs but added that no decision had been taken on the proposal. Another Congress MLA, Rana Gurjeet Singh is already travelling abroad and meeting NRIs on a private visit.
Former Congress MLA and spokesperson for Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, Sukhpal Khaira said that there was an urgent need for Congress too to engage with the NRIs and keep them in loop regarding the developments in the state.
“I had visited Canada lately and held meetings in Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal. I found that the NRIs are really concerned about what is happening in Punjab and that they are eager to play an even more important tole than what they do now,” he said.
Apart from the money power which the NRIs wield, it is also their ability to influence the manner in which their near and dear ones caste their votes which make them an important part of Punjab politcs.
Hitherto, the NRI pie was divided amongst SAD and Congress and for a short while with People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) but now AAP has a major pull among NRI voters. The Sangrur MP, Bhagwant Mann, has been first off the block and conducted a major visit to Canada addressing large gatherings in Toronto.
It is widely believed that the success of AAP in 2014 general elections in Punjab was due to liberal donation of funds by NRIs and their being enamoured with promise of clean and educated leadership offered by that party.
Both, Congress and SAD, realise the major role of NRIs in AAP getting a big vote percentage in Punjab and are seized of the need to keep their support base amongst the diaspora intact.