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Last Updated: Friday, 7 May, 2004, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
The UK Indians in Punjab campaign
By Khushwant Ahluwalia in Punjab

It was early in the morning when Balwant Singh Ramoowalia set out for a day's election campaigning.

Balwant Singh Ramoowalia addressing an election rally
Ramoowalia has close connections with UK Indians
Mr Ramoowalia, a former government minister, is contesting from Ludhiana, where a number of Indian women have been married by England-based Punjabi men, only to be dumped later.

Over the years, Mr Ramoowalia has tried to sort out the problems arising from such marriages with the help of his friends in the UK.

Now a large number of those friends have come to Punjab to help him get into the national parliament.

UK campaigns

He is not the only politician, though, who is benefiting from the help of friends and supporters outside India.

As campaigning has picked up in Punjab, a number of non-resident Indians (NRIs) from the UK have headed homewards to provide support - moral, material and political - to different candidates.

Sohan Singh Hayre from Wolverhampton
Wolverhampton-based Sohan Singh Hayre is still involved with Punjabi politics
Punjab goes to polls on 10 May, the last day of voting in India's staggered general elections.

Among Mr Ramoowalia's key campaign managers is Sukhjinder Singh Gill, a Leicester-based businessman.

Mr Gill is the president of the Mr Ramoowalia's Lok Bhalai party's UK chapter.

He is not only backing Mr Ramoowalia, but also drumming up support for him among the substantial number of Punjabi immigrants in the UK.

While in India, Mr Gill has been seeking support for Mr Ramoowalia among his friends and relatives.

Sohan Singh Hayre is a businessman now based in Wolverhampton, central England.

Rana Gurjit Singh, Congress nominee from Jalandhar
Rana Gurjit Singh - says 50 supporters have come from the UK
"I came here for the Punjab assembly elections in 2002 to support the Congress. I have come again to support my party in these elections," Mr Hayre says.

Though settled in the UK since 1958, he still stays connected with what's going on in Punjab.

"I am in Jalandhar to support the Congress candidate, Rana Gurjit Singh. I will organise social gatherings and meetings for Rana and offer whatever possible help to ensure his victory," says Mr Hayre.

More than 50 supporters have turned up from England to support Rana Gurjit Singh. More are expected to come in as the canvassing peaks, says Mr Hayre.

Among Mr Singh's supporters is Sewa Singh Badiyal, who has come to Punjab all the way from Coventry.

Sewa Singh Badiyal from Coventry
Indians abroad are interested in the poll, says Badiyal
Mr Badiyal has been worked for the Congress party from the UK and says the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was his mentor.

"There is a considerable interest among the Indian community abroad in these elections. A large number of us are here supporting candidates of our choice," says Mr Badiyal.

North America

Support for Punjab's politicians is coming in not just from England but also from the Indian community based in the US and Canada.

A group of NRIs have flown in from the US to support the radical Sikh leader and former MP, Simranjit Singh Mann.

There are others who have come from the US and are campaigning for Mann
Sudarshan Singh, New Jersey gas station manager
Mr Mann is contesting from the Sangrur parliamentary constituency in Southern Punjab on a Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) (Amritsar) ticket.

Sudarshan Singh, who runs a petrol station in New Jersey, told the BBC he is going to stay here until the elections and help Mr Mann win.

"There are others who have come from the US and are campaigning for Mann," he said.

According to him, there are over three million Sikhs in America and a lot of them look upon Mr Mann as their leader.

In another example of NRI support for politicians, a "Doaba NRIZ Association" has issued a press release from Canada offering support to Ajit Singh Parmar.

Mr Parmar is contesting on the Samajwadi Janta party ticket from Hoshiarpur.

According to the press release, at a gathering in Brampton, Canada, it was decided all the members would extend their support to Mr Parmar to win the election.


India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

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