New Delhi: At 3 am on Thursday, Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia stood waiting at the Indira Gandhi International Airport with a welcome party of a dozen Aam Aadmi Party lawmakers and hundreds of volunteers singing and beating drums, unmindful of the Delhi winter cold.
They were there, they said, to greet about 260 NRIs coming in to campaign for the party in Punjab, where assembly elections will be held next month. Mr Sisodia was at the airport for two hours in the middle of the night in an indication of how much Arvind Kejriwal's AAP is banking on its NRI campaign, being called "Chalo Punjab (Let's go to Punjab)."
"In over two to three flights, 262 people have come tonight. Our target is to have 10,000 NRI volunteers campaign in Punjab. Some 3,000 have landed already and several more planes will be coming in," claimed Kumar Vishwas, AAP's overseas convenor, who had spent a major part of the day denying rumours that he was shifting to the BJP. AAP says it has not funded the travel of the NRI volunteers.
Once they landed - they have come in from countries like Canada, USA and UK - they were put on a "Chalo Punjab" bus and headed straight to Chandigarh, where they will begin campaigning.
Jobam Randhawa, a key member of AAPs Overseas Chapter and the person who came up with the Chalo Punjab call told NDTV, "it's the power of social media, I randomly uploaded a status Chalo Punjab and it turned into this massive campaign. The NRIs will now liberate Punjab from drugs and corruption. "
Mr Randhawa said there are four special "Chalo Punjab" buses which will carry the NRI volunteers all across Punjab. "We will be holding rallies and also carry out door-to-door campaigns," he explained.
Their main work, he said, will be the in the constituency of Punjab minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who is Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal's brother in law and against whom Arvind Kejriwal has declared war, accusing him of being involved in Punjab's drug trade and vowing to jail him if AAP comes to power. "We have to ensure Majithia loses," said Jobam Randhawa, who lives in Canada.
AAP makes its debut in the Punjab elections this year, challenging traditional rivals Congress and the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine. Mr Kejriwal hopes to replicate his party's Delhi success two years ago. In the 2014 national elections his party had won its only four parliament seats from the state.