- Special Pages
by Moiz Mannan
The mention of a non-resident Indian (NRI) from the north Indian state of Punjab generally brings to mind the image of a wealthy hotelier living in Europe or the US. His major concern here is for his vast properties that are in danger of being encroached upon, at times by his own relatives.
Now this is not a stereotype reinforced by the Hindi film industry. Rather it is a reflection of the scenes at all the NRI conclaves at Punjab or national level that one has witnessed over the years. Rarely has any Punjabi NRI organisation or government official ever talked about low or middle income overseas workers who might have issues similar to those from Kerala, Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh.
Even less often have we heard of Punjabi NRIs in the Gulf countries. While it is a fact that a sizeable number of workers from Punjab are employed in the GCC region, why are they invisible when it comes to discussing NRI matters in their home state?
In India, where politics motivates just about everything, it took a twist in the results of the elections of a powerful NRI grouping to bring the issue of Punjabi NRI workers in the Gulf to the centrestage. The man who won the prestigious post is now swearing by the interests of these low paid workers and the incumbent who lost is crying foul.
The Jalandhar-based NRI Sabha Punjab was established as an NGO Society registered with the approval of Punjab government under the Societies Registration Act in 1996. It is a professionally organised service body with an involvement of NRIs, their well-wishers in Punjab and government agencies and officials. It claims to be a non-political body, but all major candidates in the recent elections to its executive were supported by Akali leaders.
NRI Sabha has several achievements to its credit, mainly in the area of administrative, legal and law-enforcement measures for the protection of properties of NRIs in Punjab. It has emerged as a potent force in lobbying with the government of the day to make it easy for Punjabi NRIs to deal with the officialdom in a variety of matters.
The Government of Punjab gave its approval to the constitution of NRI Sabha Punjab and for its registration in March 1998. The Chief Minister of Punjab is its Chief Patron and he can nominate one or more Patrons of the Sabha.
The President of NRI Sabha is elected by the NRI members every two years. Only an ex-NRI not affiliated to any political party can stand for election of President. This election, it was a face-off between two past presidents Kamaljit Singh Hayre and Pritam Singh Naurangpur and former senior vice president Jasvir Singh Gill.
Gill won, Naurangpur accepted the result and Hayre alleged irregularities and swore to go to court against the result. The bone of contention was a bunch of low paid NRIs from the Gulf who voted probably for the first time in this election.
Although over 18,000 NRIs were enrolled as voters, only 1,624 turned up at NRI Sabha Bhawan, For the first time in the sabha’s 15 years of existence, the NRI members had to be present physically to cast their vote. The earlier practice of awarding the right to their nominees to participate in the process was abolished in a constitutional amendment in the general-house meeting of October 28, 2012. International directors, who earlier had five votes, have also been denied the privilege.
Immediately after taking charge of the new office, Gill proclaimed his resolve to give equal status to Punjabi NRIs settled in the Gulf countries. “These NRI Sabha elections have opened a new channel for our NRIs who are toiling hard in the Gulf. Our constitution fully supports them and they deserve equal status. We will make sure that like the Kerala and Gujarat governments, our Punjab government too would back them to the fullest,” said Gill in an interview to Punjab News Express.
He also announced plans to streamline the grievance redressal mechanism through a single window system and a new interactive website.
Further, Gill, who had unsuccessfully contested the elections last time, spoke about plans to introduce ‘smart cards’ to facilitate various matters pertaining to NRIs. On his part, incumbent President Hayre, who lost the post by 197 votes, termed the election process a ‘sham’ alleging that Gill has brought (read bought) a bunch of dubious NRIs workers from West Asia to vote for him and this tilted the balance.
Whatever the reason, the fact is it is probably for the first time that the issue of Punjabi NRIs in the Gulf is in focus.