CHANDIGARH: Preparations for the 2017 Assembly elections have already begun in Punjab. To counter the influence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) over the Punjabi diaspora, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) will be s ending delegations of its MPs to the USA and Canada.
The move is intended to create a support base for SAD among the Punjabi NRIs and showcase the state’s achievements and fix their graft-tainted image. The party hopes to thus neutralise the impact of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and make inroads into its NRI stronghold which is also a major source of funds for AAP.
SAD is sending four contingents of senior leaders led by state cabinet ministers to woo the NRIs. The first contingent, which leaves on July 5, consists of MPs Prem Singh Chandumajra, Balwinder Singh Bhunder, Manjit Singh GK (president of SAD’s Delhi unit) and former minister and sitting MLA Bibi Jagir Kaur. They will campaign in New York and California.
The second group is going to Toronto in Canada and comprises Education Minister Dr Daljeet Singh Cheema, NRI Affairs and Agriculture Minister Tota Singh and Political Adviser to the CM Maheshinder Singh Grewal.
The third contingent, also headed to the US, comprises Rural Development and Panchayats Minister Sikander Singh Maluka, Irrigation Minister Sharanjit Singh Dhillon and Sohan Singh Thandal (Tourism, Cultural Affairs and Jails Minister), Chief Parliamentary Secretary (Industry and Commerce) N K Sharma and Chief Parliamentary Secretary (Rural Development and Panchayats) Mantar Singh Brar. Water Supplies, Sanitation and Higher Education Minister Surjit Singh Rakhra will be visiting Chicago. Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) President Avtar Singh Makkar will also be visiting these countries.
Sources said the party will initially focus on the diaspora in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. It has divided each of these countries into five to six zones and will appoint a president for each zone. In the second phase, senior party leaders will be going to Australia and New Zealand.
In the coming days, all these leaders will visit various countries one after one another. They will meet community leaders and also address gatherings of Punjabi diaspora. Each team will spend at least a week in the area allotted to them. These leaders will also identify people who are ideologically compatible so that they can be given important positions in the overseas unit of the party. The ministers will hold a series of meetings with the Punjabi diaspora and talk about the achievements of the eight-year tenure of the state government.
Punjab Education Minister Dr Daljeet Singh Cheema, who is also chief spokesperson of SAD, said, “We will be going abroad first to built up party structure and most importantly, to clear the misconception in the minds of the NRI settled abroad about Punjab and to tell them what really is happening on the ground.’’
Sources said the party will be wooing NRIs more aggressively, especially after AAP’s dramatic performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, where it won four Lok Sabha seats. NRIs wholeheartedly supported AAP in last year’s election. They called up their family and friends back in India and asked them to vote for AAP. In the US and Canada, the party structure will be finalised by August 15. The state government is also involving officials of the Union Ministry of External Affairs to assist these ministers during their meetings with Punjabi diaspora.
The state government had held three Sangat Darshans for NRIs in Moga, Ludhiana and Jalandhar in which 176, 174 and over 200 complaints were received. Of these grievances, more than 70 per cent were resolved.