While the Aam Aadmi Party’s non-resident Indian volunteers have been termed “outsiders” and attacked by Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarainder Singh as they campaign in the state, its Canadian unit is also focusing on bolstering support within the diaspora community ahead of the assembly elections.
While more than 35,000 volunteers from abroad, including more than 5,000 from Canada, have caught attention in India, the Canadian unit continues its outreach through activities including fund-raising and phone-banking among the largest Punjabi diaspora in the world.
AAP’s National Secretary for Canada Sumesh Handa, also in charge of fund-raising, said they had collected funds worth over three crore rupees in Canada. He said a third of that amount was raised in the last month, adding, “This is much higher than the funds generated in last elections.”
This figure is nearly equal to the total raised in Canada for the 2013 and 2015 Delhi Assembly elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls cumulatively.
“We have taken all donor calling data since 2013 and reached out to all those people,” Handa said. Fund-raising has been held not just in large metropolitan areas like Toronto and Vancouver but also in smaller cities and towns like Winnipeg in the province of Manitoba and Hamilton in Ontario.
Handa also said that volunteers who have remained in Canada had made over 36,000 calls to Punjab as part of the campaign.
Last year, as Captain Singh was scheduled to visit Canada to meet with NRIs, the hardline activist group Sikhs for Justice filed a complaint with Global Affairs Canada which resulted in the Congress leader cancelling that trip. The Canadian government frowns upon “foreign electoral campaigns” on Canadian territory but, as the department clarified earlier: “Neither Canadian law nor policy keeps Canadian citizens and permanent residents from joining or financially contributing to legitimate foreign or domestic political parties.” Aware of this loophole, AAP has continued fund-raising in the country while cancelling a proposed visit by Kejriwal to Canada.
As part of the outreach activity, AAP’s Canadian unit has been using an interactive voice calling or IVR system with which it has been targeting the diaspora with a pre-recorded message from AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. This is aimed at identifying those who are willing to donate to the Punjab campaign fund.
In addition, AAP has also ensured it has a outsized presence on the Punjabi media in the country, including on Punjabi-language radio and television shows .
As part of this publicity campaign, it has organised call-in interviews with Punjab leaders like Punjab State convenor Gurpreet Ghuggi. The Canada unit has also been organising online hangouts with senior leaders such a Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
Of course, the initiative that has captured most attention in India has been Chalo Punjab, which started in Canada and has resulted in the influx of volunteers into the poll-bound state.
The Congress’ complaint to the Election Commission in this regard has already been rejected by the party and Handa said even more volunteers were en route to Punjab.