For most of his life he didn’t sport a turban, but, for his electoral debut from the religious hotbed Tarn Taran, former Olympian wrestler Kartar Singh, a Jat Sikh, decided to don the turban. An important question remained: What should be the style of the turban? “I was in a fix as to what will suit me and also keep me recognisable. I decided to go with the way my idol, wrestler Dara Singh, used to tie the turban,” says Kartar, 64, who is contesting on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket.
“After a dangal (traditional wrestling tournament in mud), people tie a turban to honour the winner. Now for quite some time I am permanently donning the same style and people are liking my new look,” adds the Arjuna awardee.
Kartar has given us time to join him at village Dhand where he is to carry out door-to-door campaigning. At the last moment there is a change in schedule, as a local AAP volunteer, Rana Pratap Singh, an ex-serviceman, has managed to convince a family in the nearby village Harbanspura to leave the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to join the AAP.
“I have a relative in the village and through him I was able to convince the entire clan that AAP is the only alternative to save Punjab,” says Rana Pratap, known as ‘Fauji’ (armyman) in AAP circles. “Which party gives such importance to volunteers at the grassroots that they have a direct say with the top brass and get programmes changed?”
Kartar, famous as ‘Kartar pehalwan’ (wrestler) in the rural belt across the state, has youngsters coming to touch his feet as they are delighted to have a wrestling champion at their doorstep.
His native village Sur Singh Wala is in Khemkaran segment, but he is banking on his star appeal to gather support here.
“In rural areas, people respect wrestlers. The elders and the ones of my age have seen me competing and winning dangals. That gives me an edge,” says Kartar, who retired from the rank of inspector general of police and also had a stint as sports director.
Kartar’s opening line after the salutation ‘Waheguru ji da Khalsa, Waheguru ji di Fateh’ was: “Punjab has become unhealthy, we will make it healthy.” He is talking about the drug menace, and strikes a chord with people from this area bordering Pakistan.
“The government’s education system in the area has collapsed and there are no sports stadiums. Instead of spending time on the sports field, youngsters are hooked to drugs. Whether it was the Akalis or the Congress, nobody did enough to tackle the problem; rather they patronise peddlers,” says Kartar, interacting with his new supporters.
“My sister’s only son, 15, died of the drug,” says Rana Pratap, who joined the party two years ago. “They have 20 acres of land and now their house is deserted.”
From Harbansupra, the next stop is for Chabal, a small town, for a road show. The day happens to be Baba Deep Singh’s birth anniversary, so there are a number of langars (community kitchen) organised on the way. Kartar makes it a point to stop and pay homage at each.
And his personal photographer is capturing it all for uploading on social media.
“The media is not giving us (AAP) adequate space and they are not highlighting the achievements of Arvind Kejriwal’s government in Delhi. So, we are depending on social media to reach out to people, especially the youth,” says Kartar. While blaming the media for biased reporting, AAP has come up with its own tabloid, ‘AAP Ki Kranti’, which is giving space only to AAP and hitting out at the rivals.
Kartar is pitted against Akali MLA Harmeet Singh Sandhu and Congress’ Dharambir Agnihotri.