Why diasporic Sikhs are backing AAP for Punjab polls

A big number of Punjabis in and outside India are in desperate search for stronger leadership.

 |  4-minute read |   15-01-2017
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Do you see BSP chief Mayawati's vote-bloc tweeting or posting entries on Facebook?

I don't much, primarily because her support-base is invisible to the tools of spotlight, mainstream and social media alike.

Fans of the Delhi-born Aam Aadmi Party are partly as silent as Mayawati's and as vocal as the BJP's, the Congress' and the Akalis'.

Fairly speaking, this phenomenon reflects Arvind Kejriwal's appeal that subtly percolates down from the middle-income to low-income groups. From addicts of Facebook to sweat-shedding tillers and labourers.

That in no way means he's a mass leader. In fact, the entire theory of mass leadership has been rendered pretty weak by contemporary politics, which is fiercely competitive, regionally, nationally and globally.

But Kejriwal's skills lie in winning over the disappointed and resentful lot of communities.

For that matter, if the arrival of Punjabi NRIs in bulk to their homeland ahead of next month's state elections is an indicator, he has considerably succeeded in courting the backing of diasporic Sikhs.

Many of the Sikhs living overseas - who don't vote but wield influence - neither support the Badals nor the Congress.

Many of them have been the victim of an obnoxious branding: separatists.

A number of Sikhs who migrated to the West from the 1980s through the 1990s are still looked at with suspicion by components of their home state, politicians from both the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal included.

But yes, much like their co-religionists in India, they are profoundly attached to their faith and its nucleus in Punjab.

badal-embed_011517094205.jpg The Sikh diaspora's disaffection with the Badals has only grown. (Photo: India Today)

Over the period they lived in European, American and Australian continents, they saw the finest in justice delivery, police, administration and business enterprise.

And over the same period, they didn't see much transformation in at least two spheres - police and justice - back home.

Perpetrators of alleged police atrocities in the iron-fisted handling of militancy in Punjab have hardly been brought to justice, be it under the Akali or Congress rule.

A psychological boost Sonia Gandhi gave to the Sikhs worldwide by anointing Manmohan Singh as the PM lost its charm when nothing concrete emerged out of it for the community at large.

Remember, the Congress governed both the Centre and the state between 2004 and 2007.

Still, the Akalis were able to unseat Amarinder Singh from Punjab despite a Sikh running the world's largest democracy. In federal politics, states do not necessarily are impressed with what works superbly well nationally.

The Sikh diaspora's disaffection with the Badals has only grown.

Over the last decade, there isn't much the governing dynasty did to right the wrongs of Punjab's turbulent past.

Instead, an entire new generation of Sikhs is sunk into a morass of drugs.

From the perspective of minority politics, Badals' unconditional support to the BJP became unquestioning.

Built on the premise of religious and regional rights, the Shiromani Akali Dal under the father-son duo has remained largely tight-lipped about the hawkish cultural policy of its allies and their affiliates.

On the contrary, their "unconditional" support subtly lends legitimacy to what may not fit into the original Akali spirit.

A Shiromani Akali Dal, which was once known for its "morchas" over omissions and commissions of the Centre, chose not to protest against demonetisation despite the havoc the measure brought to Punjab's industry and farmers.

Clearly, a big number of Punjabis in and outside India are in desperate search for stronger leadership.

Wherever you go in the world either by choice or under pressure, the umbilical cord that binds you with your cradle remains intact.

What then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi did to the rest of India before 2014, Delhi CM Kejriwal has done the same to diasporic Sikhs - raising hopes and expectations.

This Punjab NRI bloc has resources and energy, which they appear to be lending generously to the Aam Aadmi Party in the hope that it would change the status quo of conservative, power-centric politics.

For the voiceless and Facebook-less voters in the lowest rungs of Punjab, it's the Delhi government's tight regulation of power, water and schooling bills that appears to be drawing them to Kejriwal.

It still is no forecast of who would win or lose Punjab till the votes are locked in and counted.

But it does show there's a whole world of sentiments and expectations that exists beyond and beneath national headlines. And this world operates on word of mouth.

Also read: Why Sidhu invoked his Punjabiyat to attack BJP


Harmeet Shah Singh Harmeet Shah Singh @harmeetss

The writer is Editor with India Today TV.

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