On the opening day of the NRI Sammelan here, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal called upon NRIs, especially Punjabis settled in foreign countries, not to support radical forces.
It is for the first time that such a comment has come from Badal since the days of terrorism in the state. It is seen as an effort to neutralise the impact of radicals settled in foreign countries and to pave way for his party on foreign lands, which so far has been opposed by the radical forces, who support Khalistan and are opposed to Badal.
Before giving the suggestion, Badal prepared the ground asking NRIs to shun radicals. He recalled the days of terrorism, when no one was willing to come to Punjab. "The black days pushed Punjab behind, but now we have pulled it out of the days of terrorism, and peace and communal harmony prevail here," said Badal, adding that Punjab was the most peaceful state in the country despite having borders with turbulent Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir. Interestingly, Badal made no reference to Khalistan.
The audience was responsive during most of Badal's speech but there was silence in the hall when Badal touched upon the issue of radicals.Dwelling on social issues, Badal asked NRIs to support Dalit population, which was highest in the state. "Dalits in the state are lagging behind, so we need to do a lot of work for them in which NRIs could be of great help," Badal said.
He said the NRI sammelan should not be made a mere get-together but the time had come when NRIs should support Punjab wholeheartedly.
He asked NRIs to run schools of international standard in Punjab for which the state government would construct buildings, and the children of NRIs could study here, so that the upcoming generation of Punjab settled in foreign countries did not lose track of the home state. "Investment would flow in Punjab only when the young generation feels connect with Punjab," said Badal.
Appealing to NRIs to invest in Punjab in a big way, Badal proposed setting up of international Punjabi chamber of commerce and trade in all big cities across the world. "The Punjab government will set up offices in these centres to attract investment," he said.
Need to open dialogue: Canadian MLA
Reacting to Badal's call, Edmonton Manning constituency MLA Peter Sandhu said there was need to open dialogue with the radicals living in Canada and the US. "They are not huge in number but we must hear them, find a solution to their grouses, and try to bring them into the mainstream," said Sandhu.
Need to talk for peace: Pak MLA
"There is need to start a discussion over the issues even if there is a difference of opinion. The issue raised by Badal Saab doesn't concern us, but as a Sikh I feel he should talk to radicals."