It started with eight people, and one of them was Harjot Singh Bains. Today, he is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate from Sahnewal in Ludhiana district, has 150 villages to cover, 2.5 lakh voters to convince, and a seat to win to the Punjab assembly.
Now 26, Bains has come a long way from that afternoon of April 8, 2011, at Jagraon Bridge, the chosen site of protests in Ludhiana. It was three days after Anna Hazare had started his anti-corruption fast and Bains, then an aspiring lawyer, was among a set of activists who wanted to show support like people had in other cities. “We carried on for a few hours every day for eight days. The crowd was 8-10, though by the end we reached 50-odd,” he recalls.
- Name: Harjot Singh Bains
- Age: 26
- Education: LLB
- Poll quotient: Youth wing chief of AAP who cites his age as a plus, though more urban than his constituency Sahnewal
- By the way: Has gained 15 kg, thanks to all the chai, in the past six months of campaign. Plans to hit the gym after polls.
Bains moved to the internet to look for a way forward. He found the phone number of Manish Sisodia, now Delhi’s deputy chief minister and second only to Arvind Kejriwal in the AAP, and made a call. “He visited us sometime later. By the time the party was formed, we were better organised,” Bains says, on the sidelines of making a Congress leader join the AAP in front of mobile cameras from where the photos go on social media.
That was the end of 2012. Bains was now a law student at Panjab University’s regional centre at Ludhiana. “My parents — father a transport businessman and mother homemaker — were worried about my studies as the activist turned more formal. They knew I was into activism, but you know!,” he smiles.
Sometimes, assi vi chill maarde haan friends naal.. to relax. But fer kitey TV ya newspaper ch koi eho jehi khabar dekh layi di hai ki sara kuch chhadd ke fer jutt jayide.
In the Delhi assembly election of 2013, the small team informally led by Bains was given the task of managing two segments — Hari Nagar and Tilak Nagar — that the party won. “On December 8, 2013, the day the results came out and we were the single largest party, my phone rang incessantly. The party was forming on its own in Punjab.” In Delhi, the party formed only a 49-day government, but Bains was set for more.
“Around May-June, I was made convener for the state. We had only about 250 active workers at the time.” When the party won all its four seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, “we were still not organised in Punjab… it was a wave election, in our favour here”.
Bigger names had joined by that time, and Bains was made youth wing chief while Sucha Singh Chhotepur (since ousted) was made state boss. “I was happy to be given a specific task of garnering youth support, which has proved to the key for our party.”
He repeatedly mentions Shaheed Bhagat Singh and other young freedom fighters in his speech at a public meeting when we meet him in Khasi Kalan village. “What has Sharanjit Dhillon (SAD candidate) done for you? This segment — one of the biggest in Punjab — does not even have a college! In Delhi, our government, if it has to choose between building a flyover and a college, picks the college. Educated youth can build their own flyovers.”
Bains’ education coincided with that of the party. In May 2014, at the time of the LS polls, he was giving his final law exams. “I passed in first division,” he underlines.
But his law practice lasted barely a year as he plunged full-time into politics after the party’s resounding success in Delhi 2015 polls. “By the grace of God, I can get by without earning myself. I want to show that a ‘normal’ person can also win elections, and not just the Badals and the Majithias,” he tells the crowd at a public meeting.
The segment is large, a mix of semi-urban and rural voters, so his family too is campaigning in some pockets. “Mom does it much more than dad.” He has a younger sister who is studying for MA in psychology at PU in Chandigarh. “She was here, campaigning, but has left today. Or maybe not,” he is not sure as he left home at 5am and will return only past midnight.
“This is a tough seat for us. We trailed by big margins in the Lok Sabha polls here,” he says, dismissing the talk of his having picked an “easy” seat. Bains wanted to only campaign in the entire state, “but Arvind-ji gave me this duty.”
His oratory is simple, almost academic, listing out promises, repeating rhetoric, and then listing out some more promises. “He does not have any political legacy to bank on, nor does he set fire with his oratory,” comments Sukhjit Singh, 17, who does not yet have a vote but is at the meeting out of curiosity. “He is a lot like us; no?”
“In Class 10, too, I got 88%,” Bains says, when asked if he was academic in school too, “96 in math, 94 in science!”
This test is much tougher, though. “Absolutely,” he nods.
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