I was in Calgary, Canada. The temperature was touching zero. It was drizzling and I was feeling cold despite a very warm jacket and muffler wrapped around my neck. Sanjay Singh was also with me. As we drove to a local community centre, I was wondering if we could get a few hundred people to listen to us. But when we reached the venue, we were pleasantly surprised. The hall was packed; in fact, it was overflowing. Every nook and corner was occupied. More than 1,000 from the Indian community, mostly from Punjab, had come to listen to us.
Canada is a special place for the Sikh community. Gurmukhi is the third most-popular spoken language there other than English and French, and a Sikh has been given the Defence Ministry, which is the third most powerful office in Canada. Similarly, in six more cities in Canada, we witnessed a similar reception and an eagerness to listen to us. In fact, in India, we sometimes find it difficult to find so many people to address. The swollen support base during our Canada and USA trip in 2015 was the first inkling that AAP had emerged as a formidable force and it could form a government in Punjab.
Every city we visited, the refrain was simple - us Punjabis are fed up of the Akali misrule back home and we want AAP. With the internet and smart phones, all of them were aware of every little detail and the latest political developments in Punjab and had many suggestions for AAP. We heard unbelievable stories of how they have been working for AAP and how some of them had even left their jobs or taken leave for three months to work for AAP during the Delhi assembly elections in 2013 and 2015.
It was at this time that we realised that the informal support system needed to be formalised and the overseas chapter needed to be properly organised. In the next few months, the overseas volunteer structure took proper shape. Nine chapters were created - USA, Canada, UK, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, UAE, Qatar and Singapore, and a few more are in the making. When sainthood was bestowed upon Mother Teresa in the Vatican, Arvind was surprised to see the massive group of NRI volunteers who came to receive him at the airport.
Today, when Punjab and Goa are going to the polls, hundreds of NRI volunteers have taken leave and are stationed in both states to canvass for the party. Either they have opted for a particular constituency, or they were delegated one. The NRIs who are working with us include young girls and boys as well as middle-aged Indians who are fed up with the state of affairs in India and want the system to change. Unlike other political parties, we do not pay them. They are spending their own hard-earned money, expecting nothing from the party in return other than better, clean politics and good governance. In fact, they contribute majorly with donations. 22% of the total party fund is comprised of their givings. This is legal and transparent money. They mostly contribute online. Those who can't come to India enlist themselves globally as volunteers for the "calling campaign." Roughly about 10,000 NRIs or overseas volunteers are involved in this. After finishing their daily routine, they meet at a place or work from their homes, make phone calls to their fellow countrymen/women and convince them about why they should vote for AAP and why AAP as a change is needed for India. It is done very systematically. Almost everyone has to make 50 calls a day. During the Delhi assembly elections in 2015, around 10.8 lakh calls were made by 2,400 overseas volunteers from the USA alone.
Almost every village in Punjab has someone or the other has gone abroad to earn a livelihood and a call from such an overseas friend or relative has a major impact on the voting behaviour of their family members, village folks and city dwellers. These volunteers are successful, seen with respect and awe by their native folks; a word from them means a lot. It is the same in Goa, which is a very small state with a population of 16 lakhs, where 5,000 youth every year leaves their home in search of jobs and education. Hundreds of Goan NRIs are also enthusiastically involved in the calling campaign and very emphatically convince their Goan friends why change is the order of the day.
In the end, I must tell you what Jaskirat Mann, a very energetic volunteer and a dear friend from Vancouver, Canada, has been saying. These days she is addressing two to three rallies every day in Punjab. In her speeches she calls the AAP movement "the second war of independence." It is this idealism, this love for their own country that drives NRIs to make a contribution to "national regeneration". This is their "Pay Back Time". They are true Indians. Nationalism is the core of their
thinking.(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.