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AAP's new focus group in Punjab: non-resident Punjabis

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:37 IST

The Aam Aadmi Party is trying a new tack to gain ground in Punjab - it's reaching out to non-resident Punjabis for support.

The party hopes that a large number of Punjabis - both those living in India and abroad - will land up in the state and give a fillip to its campaign ahead of the Assembly polls, which are barely two months away.

The campaign, titled 'Chalo Punjab', is an appeal to Punjabis to 'free' their state from the 'corrupt regime' of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine as well as the Congress - the two power centres that have ruled the state over the last several decades.

Launching the campaign, AAP's state convenor Gurpreet Singh Waraich, also known as 'Ghuggi', appealed to all Punjabis living outside that the time was ripe to 'save' Punjab from the Congress and SAD-BJP, who he alleged had a political understanding to grab power in the state turn-by-turn.

Waraich was accompanied by party joint secretary Dr Sarika Verma, who has been made in-charge of the exercise, overseas youth convenor Joban Randhawa and Rajesh Sharma, a volunteer who has come from London to campaign for the party, along with several other NRI volunteers.

The campaign is supported by a special 'Chalo Punjab Campaign' app that is designed by Raghu Mahajan, a student of Stanford University in the United States of America.

"More than two lakh Punjabis from the country and abroad are expected to participate in the campaign," claimed Waraich, while unveiling a special helpline number, 92502-23223, where Punjabis can register themselves to join the campaign. He also called upon Punjabis to send their videos on issues they feel are important.

Reports appearing in the media say the AAP expects at least 50,000 of its NRI supporters to come back home and campaign for the party.

The importance of NRIs

Although every party has been trying to woo the NRIs over the last several months, AAP appears to have been the most successful in getting support from abroad, particularly from the diaspora in Canada.

This has led to the Akalis and the Congress repeatedly seeking details of AAP funding from abroad, while also alleging that the party was being supported by separatist Khalistani elements, a charge that the AAP leadership has denied time and again.

Even the Akalis and the Congress have been trying to garner support among the NRIs. The former has activated its overseas cells over the last few months. Similarly, a number of Congress leaders, including state Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh and his wife Preneet Kaur, a former Union Minister of State for External Affairs, have toured the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and other parts of Europe, trying to convince NRIs that Punjab needs a change, and a party that can provide stable governance.

It is expected that a large number of NRIs would touch base during the winters, when the campaign is set to peak. The parties are trying to ensure that a majority of these NRIs join their campaigns.

It is a well-known fact that NRIs have a substantial clout in their native villages, given the contribution they provide in running several institutions and also in organising events like sports meets etc. A lot of them come back home in December-January to escape the harsh winters of Europe and North America. They spend their time interacting with the community and organising events, while also dabbling in community service.

The ruling Akali-BJP combine also continues to make overtures to the NRI community to get its support. In its latest move, the Punjab government has decided to offer another opportunity to the NRIs and those residing outside the state, who could not avail the benefits of 'The Punjab Laws (Special Provision) Act, 2016'.

The objective of this entire exercise is to regularise unauthorised colonies, thereby bringing them within the ambit of the planning framework and providing basic civic amenities like metalled roads, safe drinking water, sewerage and electricity to the residents of these colonies.

Rebellion after rebellion

Meanwhile, AAP continues to be shaken by rebellions that are being reported almost daily. The latest jolt has come from former Indian women's hockey team captain Rajbir Kaur, who has protested the party giving ticket to car dealer HS Walia from Jalandhar Cantonment.

She has alleged that the ticket has been sold for Rs 2 crore at the behest of a senior leader close to AAP's national convenor and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal.

The group of party affiliates accompanying her has given an ultimatum to the party leadership to take back Walia's ticket in the next 48 hours.

This revolt comes close on the heels of the party replacing its Nakodar and Balluana candidates on Sunday.

Former SAD leader Surinder Singh Hayer has replaced AAP's Nakodar candidate and the party's NRI wing chief Jagtar Singh Sanghera, while its Balluana nominee, Giriraj Rajaura, has been dropped in favour of Simarjit Singh.

Just before this, the party's Tarn Taran farmer wing leader Harinder Singh Zira announced that he would lead a group of rebels in contesting all 117 seats against official AAP nominees.

Ten days ago, the party had replaced its candidates for the Bhoa and Dharamkot constituencies.

Party functionaries say they are trying to reach out to the rebels, explaining that everyone would get a role either in the party organisation or the government when the party comes to power, according to their abilities.

"We are trying to convey that criticism within the party forum is welcome, but they should not go for public rebellion," said a functionary.

The Congress lost no time in reacting to the rebellion by Rajbir Kaur, saying that AAP's corruption has assumed gigantic proportions, threatening to corrupt the very fabric of the state, which is already reeling under the 'destructive forces' unleashed by the Badals.

Congress leaders Lal Singh, Sunil Jakhar and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal have warned against allowing the AAP leadership to corrupt the people of the state, and destroy its electoral institutions.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 7 December 2016, 5:35 IST