Politicians remain foreign to problems after poll: Punjab’s diaspora

Punjab’s diaspora is influential back to their roots in every election. But, it seems, they believe successive federal and state governments have remained foreign to their problems.

Many non-resident Indians (NRIs) lament governments investing in promises, but not strategies. Almost all prominent political parties just use them for their sake to fill campaign coffers and make their presence felt both physically and virtually, rather than considering them an integral component of the domestic policies to strengthen the bond with their motherland where they are handsomely investing for social causes.

Ahead of the Punjab Assembly elections slated on February 20, IANS talked to a host of NRIs who believe they have always been considered as moneybags and vote banks but their issues of abolishing ‘tortuous’ bureaucracies, red-tapism, corruption in government, poor connectivity, and the most important the dismal care for their ancestral properties largely remain unsolved for decades.

They say Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been seen as the harbingers of change by capturing the imagination of thousands of NRIs in its surprised forays in Punjab political arena in the 2014 parliamentary and 2017 state assembly polls, but couldn’t build up its credibility.

Unlike major involvement of NRIs in the state politics 2012 onwards by lending moral and material support, this time the pandemic restricted their physical presence.

Driven by nostalgia, UK-based Harjit Singh Gill said, “The diaspora from Punjab play an important role in all elections, from panchayat to assembly to Parliament.”

He said wealthy expatriates could help a government in many ways.

“Our issues for decades remain unresolved despite promises. The major one is the direct air connectivity to Chandigarh and Amritsar cities. A majority of the flights originate and land at the Delhi international airport. We can understand it is not a state-specific subject, but the successive state governments have failed to convince the federal government to develop both Chandigarh and Amritsar on the lines of Delhi,” Gill, who moved to England in 1978 from his hometown Jalandhar at the age of 23 and became Gloucester’s first Asian Mayor in 2007, told IANS over phone.

Echoing similar thoughts, Gulzar Singh Cheema, the first Indian-born Canadian doctor to be elected to a legislative assembly in Canada in 1988, told IANS that for the past sometime too many politicians of almost all major political parties are coming here to get the support of the Indian diaspora.

“Over the years we have observed that they make a lot of noise, listened to us but when they go back they forget about their commitments. After being at the helm, they even don’t take our phone calls,” Cheema, who was re-elected in 1990 for the Liberal party in The Maples, said.

Last year a new street in Winnipeg was named after Cheema, a Vancouver resident. It is now called Cheema Drive.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lauded the contribution of Cheema by saying that he was among few personalities who have the honor to become a member of two provincial assemblies and he was first elected MLA of the Indo-Canadian community.

According to Cheema, there is still too much red-tapism in both the federal and state governments. “They have to respect your time. There is no fast-track mechanism or courts to deal with your ancestral property issues or disputes relating to it despite the NRIs contributing a lot of it towards social causes back home.”

Canada-based columnist Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal said, “NRIs don’t need special treatment in India. They expect equal treatment.”

“We want to evolve a parallel system of shadow cabinet that scrutinises ministers and holds the government to account for its actions, but politicians in our country of origin don’t like such a mechanism. We can serve as a training ground for future ministers, but no one is interested in India to hear you,” Dhaliwal, who is based in Abbotsford in British Columbia, told IANS.

He said most of the NRI associations affiliated to Indian political parties are simply ‘fraud’. “Those who are affiliated with NRI sabhas are just using them as a platform to hog the limelight. The politicians who are coming to Canada from India with the sponsorship of NRI sabhas expect a red carpet welcome. They don’t recognise you once they go back. If we sponsor a grant for our village school or students belonging to weaker sections, there is no matching grant from the local authorities.a

Another journalist Gurpreet Singh said as in the past the NRIs in Canada are curious about the upcoming Punjab elections though travel Covid-19 restrictions curtailed their physical presence.

“The diaspora have always followed Punjab politics very closely, therefore this election is no exception. But what is so unique about this year’s election is that it comes soon after the farmers’ protest that generated a lot of support from Punjabi Canadians.

“The anti-BJP sentiment since then remains very strong among them. Many of them are anxious over the decision of farmers to jump into electoral fight as this might split anti-Modi votes. Others are hoping AAP to create a history as it is being seen as a third alternative to the Congress and Akalis which have long dominated the political landscape in Punjab.”

Gurpreet Singh, a newscast and talk show host at Spice Radio, said AAP continued to maintain its momentum among NRIs.

“But AAP has many challenges at hand. The foremost is the lack of consensus on the candidate for chief minister’s post. Not many here are impressed with Bhagwant Mann, as some find him non-serious and someone who lacks maturity and also credibility.

“They have been inclined to support H.S. Phoolka (former AAP legislator), who too turned out to be non-committal. They are also skeptical about party national convenor Arvind Kejriwal, who had sidelined Dharamvir Gandhi and has been peddling soft Hindutva and playing nationalist card,” he added.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)




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