For satirist Bhagwant Mann, politics seemed like a logical next step after he had used comedy as a medium for social awareness since he was in school. “Comedy is very serious business. You cannot make people laugh until you strike a chord with them,” says Mann, who is now the Aam Aadmi Party contestant for the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat.
The sitting MP is Congress’ Vijay Inder Singla, while the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has declared the candidature of its senior leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa.
Mann, 41, is not a greenhorn exactly, though he is contesting a Lok Sabha election for the first time. In 2011, he was among the first members of the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) formed by former state finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal, CM Parkash Singh Badal’s nephew, who had parted ways with the SAD citing differences over fiscal policy.
Mann was a trophy candidate, but remained unsuccessful — like all other candidates of the PPP — as he contested from Lehragaga in the 2012 assembly polls against Congress’ former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal. As the PPP eventually frittered away, Mann left it last month citing Manpreet’s alliance with the Congress.
SON OF A FARMER
Claiming that he has faced “all challenges and problems that any son of a Punjabi farmer has to face”, he said these had pushed him to do what he does.
“I am not fighting this election to become famous or earn money. I was famous already; in fact I got a taste of it when I was in Class 12, with my satire album ‘Kulfi Garma Garam’ (Ice-cream, Served Hot). Since the day I heard my album playing in a Punjab Roadways bus and people enjoying the satire, I never looked back and have released more than 25 cassettes, besides performing in thousands of comedy shows in more than 20 countries of the world,” he informs, adding, “Now I want to change the life of every Punjabi for the better.”
A native of Satauj in Sangrur district who now lives mostly in Mohali, Mann is campaigning in Nagra village of the segment when we meet him. As he enters the village, where he used to come to stay at his maternal aunt’s (masi’s) house, Mann jokes, “Though leaders of both SAD and Congress have failed to bring in any development, that has helped people like me who visit after years — we don’t need to ask for directions as not a single road has changed. Even the potholes are familiar!”
While Mann’s father Mohinder Singh, a school teacher, passed away some years ago, his mother Harpal Kaur lives in Satauj. Mann’s wife, Inderpreet Kaur is a citizen of the US, but has permanently settled in India with their school-going son and daughter.
Mann starts his speech standing on a wooden block below an old tree, “This is the satth ( village meeting point) from where you solve the issues of your village. Parliament is the ‘satth’ of the country, where MPs raise issues. Nobody has raised your voice in the country’s ‘satth’ in the past 60 years.”
He never fails to add entertaining bits to his long speeches. One of his favourite quips these days is: “Rahul (Gandhi, Congress vice-president) and (Narendra) Modi (the BJP’s PM candidate) have become the issue of discussion everywhere. You, the people, are left only to raise slogans of zindabad (‘long live…’).” Before he ends, the gathering grows large within minutes.
Terming Indian politics “highly comic”, he adds, “In Punjab, you can see that the government is providing atta-dal (wheat flour and pulses) instead of jobs. Has anybody heard about any ‘atta andolan’ (flour revolution) in the country? But the Badals want the people to stick to attadal, as they think Punjabis don’t even know bargaining skills.” As for his own atta-dal, he likes simple food and mostly eats in his car while campaigning.