As 167 Punjabi NRIs from Canada arrived in pollbound Punjab to support the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the state poll authorities have shot off a letter to the chief election commissioner, Nasim Zaidi, seeking a clarification: Can they campaign?
“We are getting lots of complaints and queries from different sections of the people including, politicians, but there’s no specific law on the issue. Campaigning by NRIs at such a scale in a planned manner is happening for the first time, so I decided to clarify the matter from the Election Commission of India (EC),” said chief electoral officer (CEO), Punjab, VK Singh.
That clarification might take a few days as Zaidi and other senior officials are touring Uttarakhand where polls are scheduled for February 15.
- THE DRIVE: Overseas wing of AAP started ‘Chalo Punjab’ campaign in several countries last year. And NRIs, mostly young professionals, have started flocking to Punjab as campaign peaks.
- THE VEHICLE: “Besides campaigning in home constituencies, a core team has been constituted which will be campaigning in seats where Congress is being considered to be stronger. A special 55-seater bus has been roped in for the purpose. We plan to cover one constituency completely in a day,” said Surinder Mavi, a banker in Toronto, who led the batch that arrived on Thursday.
- BEHIND THE WHEEL: The campaign was started by 28-year-old Joban Randhawa, a resident of Batala, when he was pursuing his postgraduation in Toronto. Randhawa now heads the overseas youth wing of the party.
The group of AAP supportes that arrived on a special plane that landed in Delhi is only the first batch.
The diaspora wing of the party has launched a campaign, ‘Chalo Punjab’, for NRIs to come and support AAP in the state; and it claims 3,500 NRIs have already arrived and more are expected ahead of the February 4 voting.
Parties opposed to the AAP are curious about NRIs’ impact on the electorate, but so far on one is coming out in the open. “Let the EC clarify on the matter first; then we will react,” said a Congress leader.
Joban Randhawa, who heads the AAP’s overseas youth wing, told HT that NRIs have the right to come back and speak their voice. “No Indian law can stop us,” he said.
“Most of us who are in Punjab for campaigning are Indian passport holders. And, even if someone has taken foreign citizenship, they can come back to their roots and guide families and friends.”
Despite significant involvement of NRIs in propaganda, publicity, perception-building and raising funds for the AAP, only 281 have actually used the online facility to get registered as a voter here.
But, as per Indian laws, dual voting right is not permitted, so anyone who has taken foreign citizenship and surrendered the Indian passport can’t vote. Also, the facility to vote online for Indian living abroad is pending with Parliament. “Most of us are not here to vote, but to influence Punjabis to vote for the AAP,” Joban added.