Vancouver resident Jaskirat Kaur Mann will spend two to three months at the end of this year in her native Punjab. The objective is not to escape the Canadian winter but to campaign for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for the Punjab assembly elections expected in early 2017.
Across Britain, AAP backers have launched programmes to enlist support and funds for the party’s campaign in Punjab, hoping to repeat their contributions before the Delhi assembly elections in February 2015.
The BJP might have more supporters in the Indian diaspora around the world but AAP has garnered loyal and enthusiastic followers in countries such as Britain and Canada, home to large numbers of migrants from the Punjab.
AAP coordinator Prayas Chaudhary told Hindustan Times in London that after the success of the “Flame Of Hope” programme across Britain before the Delhi polls, a similar programme – “Flame of Hope for Punjab” – was launched in four cities in February.
Two AAP legislators from Delhi, Adarsh Shastri and Jarnail Singh, toured Britain and participated in public events in Glasgow, Wolverhampton, Leicester and London. A street procession in Southall was well received and the MLAs appeared on Sikh TV and radio stations to outline their future plans to incorporate a “Punjab Dialogue Commission”.
The February campaign was aimed at mobilising volunteers, meeting the public and answering their questions, communicating AAP’s agenda in Punjab and telling NRIs how they can support clean politics.
The public events were attended by Sikhs and non-Sikhs, who asked the two MLAs a range of questions on the challenges facing the ‘aam admi’ in Punjab.
Chaudhury said: “Teams for a more aggressive and focussed UK-wide campaign are being formalised and we are hoping to have teams for each city declared very soon.”
Aviral Vatsa, an AAP supporter, said: “Punjab will witness immense support from UK NRIs, if the enthusiasm during the Flame of Hope for Punjab campaign is anything to go by.”
Jaskirat Kaur Mann, the convenor of AAP’s Canada unit, said a “big group” is working to mobilise support for the party founded and led by Kejriwal, who stunned established parties with his emphatic victory in last year’s Delhi assembly election.
“We will be going out there and doing all we can for the campaign. So far, we have around 3,000 people already committed, but there could many others going personally,” said 35-year-old Mann, who is originally from Bhatinda and runs a trucking company.
The movement won’t be unidirectional. Kejriwal is expected to visit the Canadian cities of Toronto and Vancouver this year.
“We’re still thinking what will be the right time,” Mann said, since organisers want his arrival to have maximum impact prior to the polls. Another expected visitor is AAP MP Bhagwant Mann.
More immediate are plans for participation at ‘nagar kirtans’ marking Vaisakhi. The Vancouver unit will be at the Vaisakhi Day Parade on April 23, marching under the AAP banner.
Canada has been fertile territory for AAP. Between Toronto and Vancouver, the party raised nearly Rs 2 crore for the Delhi election.
There are also plenty of volunteers engaged in phone banking activities. Mann expects even more involvement for the Punjab polls: “For Delhi, there was some language barrier. That’s not the case with Punjab.”
AAP has chapters in 10 Canadian cities across five provinces. Overall, Mann estimated there were approximately 10,000 people signed up.
The party’s effort in Canada commenced in January, almost a year before the Punjab polls, with the “Dollar-A-Day Campaign” focussed on collecting that amount from individual supporters each day until the election is completed.
In February last year, there was plenty of vigour among AAP volunteers in the Greater Toronto Area. More than 50 of them gathered to track the results of the Delhi polls. One of them had a special cake ready, and the icing read “AAP ki Sarkar”.
“We got it earlier, we were so confident,” said 25-year-old Kiranbir Kaur, an accountant, originally from Ludhiana.
Volunteers made almost 17,000 calls and collected nearly Rs 90 lakh. As the Punjab polls approach, they could easily outpace those numbers.
Fund-raising is equally important for AAP supporters in Britain.
A total of Rs 15 lakh was donated through the party’s website by Indian passport holders before the Delhi polls. Several AAP volunteers from Britain also travelled to Delhi for the election.
The party has had an office in Ealing, west London, since January 2014. Donated by an AAP supporter, the office is funded by backers of the party in Britain. AAP’s supporters in Britain mainly comprise professionals from the IT, finance, retail and medicine sectors.
“Punjabis in UK have given an overwhelming response to this campaign. This goes on proving that their heart still beats for Punjab – for its progress and well being,” said Ramanpal Singh Anand, an APP supporter.