Categorized | Feature, Interviews

Brampton man heading to India to be ‘part of real change’ in Punjab vote

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Surinder Mavi’s political awakening began with his arrival in Canada eight years ago, when he realized bribes were unnecessary and basic rules, like stopping at red lights, were respected.

“I thought to myself, ‘Why shouldn’t the system work like this in the Punjab?” he says, referring to his home state in northern India.

On Tuesday, Mavi will be among 90 or so residents from the Toronto area flying to India to help the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) contest elections on Feb. 4 for Punjab’s legislative assembly.

“I want to be a part of real change,” says Mavi, a 31-year-old Brampton resident who helped organize the plane load of AAP election volunteers.

Mavi said the Toronto area volunteers are part of a campaign that will see thousands of Indian expatriates arrive in Dehli Thursday to help the AAP in the state elections.

For the election, Mavi will be ride an AAP campaign bus that will rally support in 16 of Punjab’s largest constituencies.

Before coming to Canada, Mavi was a politically inactive and unemployed engineer. But in 2014, after landing a job as a senior technical service analyst at a major Canadian bank, he decided it was time to act.

He joined the Canadian branch of AAP, which had burst onto the Indian political scene two years earlier with a platform of ending the culture of “bribe-taking.” Its leader is an austere former civil servant, Arvind Kejriwal.

Up for grabs in Punjab are 117 assembly seats in a state where Sikhs make up the majority of its 28 million people. The election will test the AAP’s support outside of its base in Dehli, where in 2015 it won all but three of the capital’s 70 assembly seats in local elections.

The Dehli results were a spectacular comeback for a party that, the previous year, was trounced in national elections by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). The AAP won only four seats — all of them in Punjab.

The Punjab election will also test the popularity of Modi’s BJP, which is part of the state government thanks to its alliance with the Sikh-based Shiromani Akali Dal party.

The election is the first since Modi’s bold “demonetization” policy of fighting tax evasion and corruption by scrapping India’s two biggest notes — 1,000 rupees (about $20), and 500 rupees (about $10). The policy has resulted in lengthy lineups at banks as Indians scrambled to exchange the old notes for new ones.

“It’s a good bellwether for the effect that demonetization has had,” said professor Kanta Murali, an expert on Indian politics at the University of Toronto, noting that Punjab’s farmers and large agricultural sector rely heavily on cash transactions.

Azad Kaushik, Canadian president of the Overseas Friends of BJP, notes “an anti-incumbency factor” prevalent in Punjab. But in a phone interview from Dehli, where he was visiting, he insists the BJP’s economic record and its development of infrastructure — from roads to airports — will keep its state coalition in power.

Kaushik, who accuses the AAP of having “failed miserably” as Dehli’s government, stresses his group is not a political party and therefore will not be sending volunteers to India to help the BJP in the Punjab election.

Polls in the last several months have indicated widely different results. But all show the AAP having a significant impact.

Mavi, whose parents live in Punjab, said the Toronto-area volunteers will largely be staying with family and relatives. Key platform issues, he said, are the AAP’s proposals to fight widespread drug abuse among youth and programs to give farmers more money for their crops.

He has high hopes for his party but no plans to take his wife and one-year-old son to live in India, at least not until big changes happen.

“If the system started working as it is in Canada, then there’s no harm in going back,” he said.

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