Planeloads of non-resident Indians (NRIs) are flying to Punjab to campaign for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Only time will tell the impact they would have on AAP’s prospects of winning Punjab elections, but it has certainly caused concerns among other party leaders who have gone to the extent of complaining to the Election Commission to oust them from Punjab, suggesting that their campaign is already making an impact in the poll-bound state.
But why are NRIs supporting AAP? What motivates them to take leave (without pay in many cases) and buy tickets to fly to Punjab to support a relatively young political party? Why don’t they trust all the negative news in the media about the party portraying them as a bunch of criminals?
Here are three main reasons:
Most NRIs have first-hand experiences of corruption in the Indian political and government system. When probed, most of them would tell you stories about dealing with government offices in India, particularly with the police and revenue departments. They would tell you stories of how they or their relatives were denied jobs for being unable to pay bribes.
Now contrast it with the system in countries where they are currently residing. In western countries, they don’t have to pay kickbacks to get things done. Here, jobs are secured based on talent and skills, and not on bribing a government officer or a politician.
|Why are NRIs supporting AAP?|
Having experienced the benefits of such corruption-free system, NRIs are striving for a similar system in their country of birth. The only political party that NRIs believe can make this change is the Aam Aadmi Party, not because this party originated out of the anti-corruption movement, but because they know how the party has been successful in reducing corruption, especially in government offices in Delhi.
Better public education system
Government education system in India, in general, and Punjab, in particular, was quite robust about 30-35 years ago when most children used to go to government schools. I know a number of people who studied in government schools in the 1970s and 1980s who have become excellent doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers and businessmen.
However, things started to change in the late 1980s when the standard of education in government schools started to deteriorate. As a result, parents who could afford to pay private school fees were no longer willing to send their kids to government schools. The exodus of good students from government schools resulted in continuous deterioration in their standard of education and this started a vicious cycle.
|NRIs understand that AAP is the only party that can improve public education in India as they have done in Delhi.|
The situation has now worsened to such an extent that even those who cannot afford to pay fees have to send their kids to private schools. Just as an example, the strength of the government primary school in my village where I studied has gone down to just 32 students from 200 students in the 1980s, despite a significant increase in the village population in the same period.
NRIs are fully aware of the benefits of a good public education system. They understand that providing good education and developing skills are the only ways of improving living standards of millions of poor and lower middle class in India. Moreover, they experience good public education system in western countries where majority of students go to government schools (see this for example).
NRIs understand that AAP is the only party that can improve public education in India as they have done in Delhi where they have significantly increased the education budget, built new schools, developed school infrastructure and trained school teachers and principals.
Surprisingly, no other political party even makes false promises about improving the public education system – this "boring" issue has never been on their political agenda.
Better public health system
Another factor that attracts NRIs to AAP is their focus on healthcare. NRIs experience the benefit of good funding on healthcare in western countries and want the same to happen in their country of origin.
Although all parties say that they will provide better healthcare, AAP is the only party that has actually done something about it. In a short span of three years, they have opened a number of small government clinics (mohalla clinics) in various parts of the city that provide free consultation, free medicines and free diagnostic test services to patients. Although a lot more needs to be done but they have made a good beginning which has not gone unnoticed amongst the NRI community.
People in India sometimes wonder how someone can support AAP that is embroiled in so many controversies. However, after settling in other countries without much support, NRIs have gained life experiences that enable them to separate fact from fiction or real issues from noise.
Although a number of cases have been registered against AAP MLAs and workers in Delhi, NRIs see this as a vendetta of other political parties towards AAP. This has, in fact, boosted NRI support for AAP in Punjab as they sympathise towards a party that they see as a victim of the corrupt system trying to keep its hold on the country.
The other parties should, therefore, stop whingeing about NRIs support for AAP and should rather think about the reasons why they are not supporting them but this young party. Instead of using all their energy to destabilise theAAP government in Delhi, they should start focusing on creating a corruption-free society, improving education and health if they want to get support from NRIs and the Indian public.