The Congress victory in Punjab assembly elections was widely welcomed in London – home to a large Punjabi diaspora – with opinion ranging from a cautious welcome to Amarinder Singh to dismissing the challenge posed by a party “led by comedians”.
Several community leaders and individuals closely involved with the election told Hindustan Times that the change in Chandigarh had generated much hope that serious issues facing the state such as drugs, alcohol and corruption would now be tackled in right earnest.
Sandeep Bisht, spokesman of Aam Admi Party UK, said the result was “not disappointing, but less than expected”, and added that it was “remarkable” that the party was on course to win 25 per cent of the seats in a state that was much different from Delhi, where the party is in power.
The UK unit of the party had collected the pound equivalent of Rs 48 lakh for election-related expenditure, and 235 party members from Britain had travelled to the state to campaign. AAP was the most visible among parties in areas such as Southall.
But Harjeet Singh, vice-president of Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall, said: “A comedian was leader of the party in the state. Comedians can entertain, but cannot run a state. It is wrong for NRIs to go and support any party during elections from here”.
According to him, the Punjab electorate had “voted very carefully”. It was more a defeat for the Badals than a victory for the Congress, he said, but added that the people had voted for a strong leadership in the persona of Amarinder Singh.
Bipin Jha, a Portsmouth-based doctor, a former AAP member and associate of election consultant Prashant Kishore, said he played a key role in weaning Navjot Singh Sidhu (among others) away from AAP and joining hands with Amarinder Singh, and expressed delight at the result.
Jasdev Singh Rai of the British Sikh Consultative Forum, said: “The results are good for Punjab with a mature old hand able to lead the state back to some sort of development after years of tensions between Sikhs and the Akali regime”.
“Although it is difficult for Sikhs to back the Congress in view of the 1984 attack on Sri Darbar Sahib, the issue of drugs and lack of investment has affected the state. Amarinder Singh has promised to eradicate the drug problem within 4 weeks: in a way he is on trial now to see if he can deliver on this”.
“We also hope his government will now assist in resolving many of the issues that his party created in 1984. We hope he will cooperate in the dialogue process between Sikhs and Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, Rai added.
Harsev Bains, a Southall community leader and vice-president of the Indian Workers Association, said: “People of Punjab have voted overwhelmingly for change and an end to the Akali-BJP combine led by the Badals. Punjab has been stripped of its assets and its youth destroyed by drugs”.
“The outcome is in favour of experience and stability in Punjab. Congress has been provided a mandate for governance and must learn from the past. The electrote cannot be fooled by false undelivered promises and have removed incumbent governments”, he added.
Sunil Chopra, Labour councillor, former lord mayor of Southwark and a former vice-president of the Youth Congress in India, was delighted with the results: “People are fed up and have realised that you cannot stay in power if you don’t tackle abuse of drugs and alcohol. The Congress is slowly coming back all over the country”.