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Why the NRI is welcome at Punjab polls

Conservative estimates by poll managers of leading political parties put NRI contributions for this year's election at over 22 million dollars.

india Updated: Jan 18, 2007 13:05 IST

As NRIs of Punjabi origin make a beeline for theirhometown in the run-up to the Feb 13 assembly polls, their money power and influence on Punjab politics cannot be denied.

Conservative estimates by poll managers of leading political parties put NRI contributions for this year's election at over Rs.1 billion (nearly $22 million). Much of this money will come from the United States, Canada, Britain and other European countries.

"NRIs play an important role in all elections in Punjab - right from panchayat (village body) to assembly and parliament," Harjit Singh, settled in Britain's Gloucester town, told IANS.

"This is one way for our generation of Punjabis to identify with our motherland. We are wooed by politicians from all parties for the funds we can provide and the influence we have," he added.

Groups of NRIs are already arriving at Amritsar's Rajasansi airport and Delhi airport to be part of the state's biggest election exercise.

A 117 assembly seats in Punjab go to polls Feb 13 with a tough fight expected between the ruling Congress and main opposition Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine.

"They have a definite influence on the vote banks in their villages and surrounding areas because of their NRI status. No politician can afford to ignore them," said Bhagwant Singh, a horticulturist here.

The Doaba belt - the area in Punjab between the Sutlej and Beas rivers comprising the districts of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala - from where the maximum migration of Punjabis took place between 1940 and 1970 to countries like the US, Britain, Canada and Europe, has the maximum number of NRIs coming for this election.

Akali Dal president Parkash Singh Badal held a meeting last week with NRIs at a Jalandhar hotel and reportedly made several promises if voted to power.

The NRIs support various parties and in return seek help in getting contracts for projects, securing land deals, and settling disputes and police cases here.

"We and many of our friends and their families are coming to campaign for our candidates. This should be an interesting experience," said Avtar Singh, who has arrived from New York.

For leading political parties, one way to stay connected with rich NRIs is to float their overseas wings. Parties like the Congress, Akalis and the BJP have units in the US, Britain and other countries.

Ministers and legislators keep in touch with the overseas units and also hold meetings in the respective countries to plan funding and support. However, the leaders of the NRI community do have one request - that the government allow them to contest in elections.

First Published: Jan 18, 2007 13:02 IST