Not waiting to be crowned the Punjab Congress chief or the chief ministerial candidate for the 2017 Assembly elections, party's deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Captain Amarinder Singh will kick-start his poll campaign from the US and Canada this September.
He will leave on a two-week tour to the US and Canada to woo Punjabi NRIs, largely credited for scripting the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Not only is the Punjabi diaspora an important opinion-maker for their families back home but also has been funding poll campaigns of political parties. The former chief minister will be meeting MLAs, former MLAs and senior party leaders to chalk out his programme for the US, Canada and the UK tomorrow before his rally in Mohali.
A five-minister delegation of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal is already in North America to woo non-resident Indians (NRIs). The ministers will hold meetings with Punjabi diaspora and talk about the achievements of the eight-year tenure of the state government, issues of NRIs resolved by the state government and also special efforts made for protecting their interests. The foreign trips by its political leaders have sounded the poll bugle in Punjab even as the assembly elections are nearly a year-and-a-half away. Much of the pre-planning by the Congress and the Akalis is to counter the AAP which had sliced away a major chunk of their votes in 2014 parliamentary elections riding high on the support of the NRIs who had rallied behind the rookie party through social media, poll funding and campaigning.
MLA Rana Gurjit Singh, who is organising the Captain's North America and the UK tour, said he asked Amarinder to plan the trip as during his visits to Canada and the UK last month he was flooded with demands from Punjabi NRIs to interact with Amarinder.
"The NRIs are rooting for change of the corrupt Badal government. Punjab is reeling under farm crisis, unemployment and drug abuse. They want good governance and see Amarinder as someone who can deliver that. The Akalis may send any number of delegations, but they won't get any response from the Punjabi NRIs. We will finalise the details of the programme in our meeting tomorrow," Rana Gurjit said.
As the Punjab Congress president in 2011, Amarinder had used radio talk shows to connect to the Punjabi diaspora before the January 2012 polls. He was hosted by popular Punjabi FM radio channels of Canada such as CKYE 93.1 Red FM in Canada and Sher-e-Punjab and Punjabi Radio, headquartered at San Jose, California, and spoke on issues ranging from state of affairs in Punjab, steps he would take if elected to power to "improve" Punjab's economy to blacklisted Sikh NRIs. The ruling SAD had also sent its delegation then and People's Party of Punjab chief Manpreet Singh Badal, too, had undertaken a trip to the US and Canada
The trip is yet another move by Amarinder to assert his authority in the party after he had this month launched a parallel state tour to counter the mass contact programmes of Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa in June.
Amarinder has been showcasing his popularity among party rank and file through pulling crowds at rallies and public meetings and taking on Bajwa's "street-fighter" image. Even as the first 10-day leg of his programme concludes tomorrow, his camp is already euphoric with reports that Bajwa is likely to be replaced by the party in the next round of reshuffle of state presidents.