PHILLAUR (JALANDHAR): A fleet of swank cars followed by an equally swanky and huge bus swooped down the eight lane highway that connects Phillaur to Delhi. All occupied by non-residential Indians from the UK. One of elderly occupants neatly dressed in a suit climbed out of the bus carrying a jhadoo - a broom and the election symbol of Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Admi Party (AAP) - on his shoulders. The younger occupants in the bus and the cars all wore the same t-shirt that said "Flame of Hope, restore Punjab to its own glory."
Meet the NRI campaigners of AAP. "We want more development in Punjab. You have seen highways in the West, and look the ones we have," Rahul Singh a resident of London said. Singh was born in Uttar Pradesh but migrated to the UK.
The AAP claims that it has several thousand supporters who have come from Canada, UK, US and Australia to campaign for them. "It is spontaneous, in our favour," an AAP functionary responsible for coordinating with the NRI said. "It is all hot air," said Ajit Singh Kohar of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) dismissing the AAP. "I don't see any major upset," he added.
Though AAP has put its NRI campaigners in the forefront, all political parties have their share of the NRI campaigners. The former Canadian Member of the Parliament, Rubby Dhalla, is campaigning for the ruling SAD. The Congress too has its share of campaigners from Birmingham, Manchester in the UK, and from Canada and Australia. Perhaps by showcasing its NRI support, the AAP is cleverly leveraging the enthusiasm – at times bordering on obsession - for the West here to project itself. Simply put, NRIs by virtue of having migrated are more competent and wise. Reality of-course is different. The West has always politically influenced Punjab and can be traced back to the pre-World War-1 Gadar Movement that started from the United States.
Rahul woos the under privileged
As the helicopter hovered over the ground, the speaker deftly changed track. From the bad governance of the SAD, he shifted to more pressing issues, shouting a welcome for Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi. The response was warm, if not poor. As Rahul arrived on stage the decibel levels to welcome him did go up, but not exponentially. This has been Congress strong hold of sorts returning Congress candidates as many as eight times since 1952.
However, the Congress has lost the seat in the last two elections by margins as less as 100 votes. Phillaur is reserved constituency. The Dalits have had run-ins with the Akalis here and that has left deep mark. Will Rahul's visit make a difference? With an eye on the Dalit votes Rahul announced restoring scholarships for Dalit students that the SAD – BJP government has done away with. Later he visited the Dera Sachkhand Ballan- a kind of religious sub-group - that has huge Dalit following. Delhi Chiem Minster and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal too have visited this group recently.