Chandigarh, April 23: The influence of NRIs on the electoral outcome in a state like Punjab perhaps has been a much hyped myth that has survived over the years but the situation seems to be changing in the coming months with the Aam Aadmi Party emerging as the new hope the way the Akali Dal had has risen like a phoenix in 1997 elections to wipe out the Congress handing the oldest party in the country the worst ever defeat in the history of this border state.
Years back, the leaders from their native state used to visit these NRIs to make a few thousand dollars. However, of late, this section that otherwise is frozen in time is perceived as a very important electoral constituency and its unprecedented impact was felt in 2014 Lok Sabha election when AAP won four seats. Now every party is banking upon this support, at least from a section.
The tallest leader to visit them in US sub-continent in recent days in the context of Punjab polls February 2017 is Capt Amarinder Singh who would have never expected the treatment that has been meted out to him. He has been a darling of the Diaspora for years, the former Congress MP who had resigned both from the party and the Lok Sabha in protest against Operation Bluestar despite having personal relations with the family of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He seems to have now fallen from grace for various reasons.
Canada has gone to the extent of imposing ban on his political activities in that country against which he has protested.
Earlier, several Akali ministers and other leaders had flocked to USA and Canada after Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal was forced to cancel his visit in view of the announcement by various Sikh organisations to stage protests against him. They did not spare the leaders who took the risk of addressing them although in small gatherings. Akali Dal is one party that at one time used to have delegates in its general house from countries like USA, UK and even Singapore. Moreover, the Congress was much maligned party among the Sikh Diaspora in post Operation Bluestar period. The Akali leaders had a bitter experience during their visit to convince this section about its pro-people credentials. The Akali Dal government had been going out of the way to accord special treatment to them during NRI Sammellans.
It may be recalled that Manpreet Singh Badal had emerged as their hero when he resigned from the Parkash Singh Badal government as the finance minister. What proved to be the undoing of the People’s Party of Punjab was that within days of the launch, he left for US sub-continent during that crucial period when he should have focused on his nascent outfit.
Quoting Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, there are several Punjabs overseas. They are watching the situation in their native state from a distance with a lot of interest. Mann has addressed big meetings overseas and he has been talking only politics getting overwhelming response.
Elections are still a few months away and that provides enough elbow room to the Akali Dal to counter an aggressive AAP. The Congress prefers to be in slow motion and now its leaders have the excuse of this mode being part of the strategy designed by its poll manager Prashant Kishor who has proved himself twice and thus his credentials can’t be challenged. It is he who seems to be running the party rather than Capt Amarinder Singh.
The Akali Dal still has the time to start exporting plane load of vegetables to the European countries from Amritsar’s Raja Sansi airport as had once been promised by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to make Punjab another California. The party would have to go back to its traditional constituency.
India Shining campaign of the NDA did not pay in 2004. What happened more than a decade back at the national level could be the learning experience for the Akali Dal in February 2017 elections too. Development must be tuned to politics. One has to take a round of the streets of Amritsar to assess the mood of the people as Sukhbir’s refrain has been to develop it as the best city in the state.