Six months after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh gave a call to youth of Punjabi origin to visit Punjab under State government’s “connect with your roots” (CYR) programme during a function in the Indian High Commission in London, only one applicant from the United Kingdom has registered on the online portal of the scheme. At least so far, there are no takers for the CYR programme in United States, Canada and Australia, the other three countries selected for the programme. In December last year, sources say, Amarinder Singh wrote to the Indian High Commissioners in the US, UK, Canada and Australia saying that Punjab government would be happy to welcome the first batch under the CYR programme on the occasion of Lohri around 12th January, 2018. The CM also noted that visit dates could be aligned to coincide with the holiday calendar of the respective countries. Along with the letter, the Punjab government also sent details of the programme in pamphlets.
However, the response was nil.
The Punjab government now plans to run advertisement campaigns in the said countries, requesting respective High Commissions to get the job done on its behalf for which the State government would make the payment for advertisements. In Doaba and Malwa, the regions of Punjab that are home to majority of NRIs, the Punjab government started advertisement jingles on radio a few days back.
“The jingle is on air in the UK as well since last month,” said Punjab’s NRI Affairs Department Commissioner Kavita Singh.
The jingle goes as “Dade da dadi da, nane da nani da vekhna je pind aa. Chaldi Punjab vich keho jahi wind aa. Villages te historical places di karni je sair aa. Enjoy karne Punjabi food te dekhne pind ja shehar aa. Fer Punjabio pack your bags and tie your boots, let’s go to Punjab to connect with your roots. Videshan vich vasde 16 ton 22 saalana de NRI naujawana nu apne virse te Punjab di dharti naal joran layi 10 dina da free tour program Punjab sarkar valon karaya ja reha hai. (If you want to see the village of your grandparents, if you want to experience the climate of Punjab, if you want to tour historical places, enjoy Punjabi food or want to see cities and villages of Punjab, then, Punjabis, you pack your bags and tie your boots. Let’s go to Punjab to connect to your roots. The Punjab government is organising a 10-day free tour to connect Young NRIs between 16 to 22 years of age with the heritage and land of Punjab.)”
An applicant has to essentially apply for the programme on the CYR portal. After correspondence with Indian High Commission in the UK and following radio advertisement there, the Punjab government was hopeful to host the first batch from UK from March 30 to April 10 in the wake of Easter holidays there.
However, the tepid response has left the Punjab government high and dry. “Probably, we need to give more time. We may announce the dates for the programme two months for the youth to plan the visit. We will also seek feedback from the High Commissions on probable reasons for the low response. Since this is new programme, we may plan accordingly in future after getting feedback,” said Kavita Singh.
Jasbir Singh Gill, the last president of defunct Punjab NRI Sabha – the last elections of the Sabha which otherwise has a two-year tenure were held in 2013 – that awaits elections, said prominent NRIs needed to be roped in for such kind of programmes, but they were not interested. “I was present in a meeting of the government where the programme was discussed. I also got in touch with NRIs in Birminghim who were associated with the NRI Sabha. They say they are not interested since the government is doing nothing to hold elections for the NRI Sabha first,” Gill said, adding that nearly nearly 20 years back, the NRI Sabha had successfully hosted a batch from UK, which included youth from Indian origin.
Jagbir Singh Shergill, who has been living in Jalandhar for several years, said that in many cases, NRI parents and grandparents dissuaded the youth to visit Punjab as they have had bad experience relating to “false cases” and “inordinate delay in settling their disputes”.
“Main taan kahanga, moh bhang ho gaya hai (I would say that NRIs are disillusioned),” said Major Singh Sahota who shuttles between Canada and Punjab and whose two daughters and a son are living in Canada. “And this has not happened overnight. NRIs did not have any good experience with the Punjab government for the past 10 to 12 years. Even my children, when they visit India, prefer to visit other parts of the country like Jaipur, Jodhpur, Goa and Bombay [Mumbai] more,” said Sahota.
Karnail Singh, who is living in Australia, said, “There is not one per cent awareness of any such scheme [CYR] here.”
The 10-day programme for young boys and girls between 16-22 years of age is aimed at taking them to native places or towns in Punjab where their parents or grandparents were born or where they spent their early years, and to places like Golden Temple, Wagah border, Khalsa Heritage complex Anandpur Sahib, Jallianwala Bagh, Jang-e-Azadi memorial and number of historical places. The Punjab government had initially planned that the group size should be at least of 15 youth, but it is now ready to consider a group size of 10 also. According to a functionary, the government was even ready to roll out the inaugural tour programme even if the group size was attained collectively with participants of all the four countries.
“The Punjab Government would be ready to welcome the first batch of 15 participants from as early as November 2017. Dedicated coaches to pick up the group from Delhi or Amritsar airports would be deployed. Once the participants set foot in India, all expenses on travel, boarding, lodging and sightseeing will be borne by the Government of Punjab. We are looking at having a group of 15 participants from different countries every two months. And we intend to cover six different countries in a year,” says the CYR portal.