The high cost of air travel and stay in Punjab notwithstanding, non-resident Indians (NRIs) have packed flights to come home to elect the next NRI Sabha president on Sunday.
For the first time in sabha's 15 years of existence, the NRIs will have to be present physically to cast vote, while right of their nominees to participate in the process was abolished in a constitutional amendment in the general-house meeting of October 28, 2012.
International directors, who earlier had five votes, have been denied the privilege. Stage is set for nearly 18,000 NRIs to pick the winner from a triangular contest between former presidents Kamaljeet Singh Hayre and Pritam Singh Naurangpur, and former vice-president Jasvir Singh Gill. Their overseas supporters have reached Punjab.
British member of parliament Virendra Sharma, a native of Jalandhar, flew down from Ealing to Jalandhar on Thursday evening especially for the election. What better proof of enthusiasm in the campaign.
"I turned up to support Hayre in elections, since he is a capable of leading the NRIs and getting their grievances redressed," said Sharma. "The elections should be free and fair. I will stay in Punjab for a week before flying back to the United Kingdom."
Punjabi all over the world had keen eyes on the election, said Sharma. Kenny Virk, settled in California in the US for the past 22 years, has no regret that the trip to Punjab cost him more than $2,000 (Rs 1.07 lakh). He'll take it for the chance to elect the right man as sabha chief. Virk runs a petrol-filling station in the US.
Sandeep Singh Bains of Vancouver in Canada has brought 20 other supporters from Canada and sent them to various parts of the Doaba region to cast votes. "It's our duty to ensure maximum participation of the NRI voters in the elections," said Bains. "We want the new president to ensure resolution of our property disputes." The cost of travel and stay in Punjab will be around 3,000 Canadian dollars for each member of his group.
"I usually visit India in every winter. Now I clubbed my trip in a manner to be able to meet my family and friends as well as participate in the election," said Paramjit Singh Thala of New York. A section of candidates have also paid for the air travel arrangements of the voters and their "comfortable" stay in hotels.