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Last Updated: May 15, 2007 - 2:05:15 AM
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NRIs fly in - even first class - for Punjab polls
Feb 9, 2007 - 8:47:22 AM
The expatriates, however, may not be entirely happy with the distribution of tickets done by the ruling Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal.

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[RxPG] Jalandhar, Feb 9 - For a retired postmaster from Britain's Birmingham city, the temptation to be part of the Punjab assembly election was too big to resist despite the non-availability of seats on most flights coming to India.

So Bhagwan Dass Badhan decided to fly first class - even if it meant paying nearly four times extra. The president of the Indian Overseas Congress in Britain, he is not the only one eager to be part of Punjab's colourful electoral scene for the 117 assembly seats. The polls are to be held Feb 13.

Badhan told IANS here that a group of 55 NRIs from Britain had come together to support Congress candidates, mainly in the Doaba belt.

The Doaba belt comprising the districts of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Nawanshahr districts had seen maximum immigration to Western countries from Punjab, starting in the early 1940s.

'All flights coming to India from Britain are full. The position of flights to Amritsar airport is particularly bad. Since I did not get any ticket, I travelled first class to Delhi,' Badhan said.

This group of 55 NRIs, mostly businessmen from all over Britain, is not the only one actively campaigning in Punjab.

Jaswinder Singh Khangura, who gave up his British citizenship last year to contest elections here and is the Congress candidate from Kila Raipur seat near Ludhiana, has his own band of NRI supporters canvassing for him.

'The total number of NRIs from Britain and the US could be between 1,000 and 1,500. They are very excited about the Punjab election,' NRI Kewal Singh said in Banga town, 40 km from here.

Some of the NRIs have brought their wives and families along to give them a feel of the election in Punjab and also get them to campaign for candidates.

Having seen elections in their adopted countries, the NRIs feel more at home with the electoral scene here.

'NRIs definitely help in campaigning as people in villages listen to them. The village folk here think that NRIs have seen the world and can judge candidates better,' said Jasbir Singh, a supporter of a Congress candidate in Jalandhar.

The NRIs also help candidates with money - an investment they think they can reap if the candidate wins and comes to power.

'Most leading candidates are millionaires themselves and don't need financial help. But they are so shameless that they want to get hold of every single dollar or pound offered to them,' said another London-based NRI, requesting anonymity.

The NRI donation this time, in cash and kind, is expected to touch Rs.1 billion.

The expatriates, however, may not be entirely happy with the distribution of tickets done by the ruling Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal.

'We feel that some of the tickets were wrongly given away. But we will keep supporting our party candidates,' Badhan said.

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