Two Congress flags positioned like sentinels on the entrance of an imposing house in Harindra Nagar here flutter in early-morning breeze. It is 8 on Monday morning, the auspicious Baisakhi day. But, there is no activity in and around this mansion. While unwillingly tiptoeing around, an aged person suddenly emerges and before being asked, says that Joginder Singh Panjgrain, the Congress nominee from Faridkot Lok Sabha seat, had left for a village at the crack of dawn.
In between, Panjgrain’s aide Karamjit Singh also walks in. A little later, Panjgrain, 55, sitting MLA from Jaitu (reserved) assembly segment, calls up to inform about his location.
Speaking in Hindi, he gives a suggestion: “Akali Dal ki meetings bhi dekhna aur poochna logo se Panjgrain kaisa hai. Sari picture saaf ho jayegi… (Also attend meetings of the Akali nominee and ask people about me. You will get a clear picture of the election).
Handpicked by the party to wrest this seat from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Congress nominee has taken this challenge as yet another opportunity to prove his fighting skills singlehandedly.
“He is a born fighter,” says the MLA’s aide as a phone call interrupts him. The caller, a villager, informs that the MLA had done right by reaching Sarawan village earlier than scheduled.
“He has been fighting since infancy. Initially, the fight was for survival and later to make ends meet,” the aide, a former sarpanch, concludes.
Panjgrain was barely three months old when his mother passed away. Shortly thereafter, his father re-married and the distraught child was brought up by his maternal grandparents (nanke).
Poverty further forced him to cut short schooling when in Class 7. “I dropped out of school midway to earn a living,” he says and with a twinkle in his eyes adds: “But after that I never looked back.”
After a less than four-hour sleep, Panjgrain starts his typical campaigning day before dawn and is in the villages to catch up with farmers and labourers before they go for wheat harvesting. He has a special bond with the labour class.
In 1978, he began earning his bread and butter as a labourer of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), where he went up the ladder to become its activist at the state and national levels. This experience and direct contact with the labour class of Faridkot has been especially coming in handy for this two-term Congress MLA.
“I had been the president of the FCI workers’ union of Faridkot district for many years, besides an executive member of the union at the national level. All FCI labourers will be campaigning for me door-to-door,” he says shortly after this reporter locates him in Sarawan village.
His wife, Krishan Kaur, is also helping out with the campaign while camping in Moga, taking out groups of women to garner support for him. Son Sharanjeet Singh Sunny, 26, is mainly concentrating on their pocket bor-ough, Jaitu assembly segment.
His oratory skills are modest at best. However, he never forgets to challenge deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and cabinet minister Bikram Majithia and blames the duo for having captured every business, from drugs to sand and transport.
He does not forget to remind voters of the “absence” of his SAD rival, Paramjit Kaur Gulshan, from the constituency in the past five years. Satisfied with the public response in Sarawan village corner meetings, Panjgrain tells his audience: “Jadon mein bachcha si waheguru nein meri baahn phad ke rakhi.
Hun tussi meri baahn phadi te mennu MLA banaya aur Gurdas Badal nu do vari lamma paya tussi… (When I was a child, the Almighty held my hand. Now, you did it and made me an MLA, putting my rival Gurdas Badal on the mat).”
HIS OWN PA
There are loud cheers and Panjgrain is off to another village. He does not spend more than 15 minutes in each meeting and doubles up as his own personal assistant by calling up people in the next village that he is arriving.
As he settles down in his white Fortuner, the MLA himself guides his driver not in one village but village after village about the track to be followed, in a clear indication of the knowledge of even lanes and narrow kutcha paths of the area he is striving to represent in the Lok Sabha.
“I must have walked around the paths of almost every village of Faridkot area many times since my childhood,” he says smilingly.
As his vehicles pulls up at Gurusar, Behbal Kalan and Behbal Khurd, he is welcomed by upbeat rural voters. The crowd in these corner meetings is in good numbers. “Akaliyan ne tan retta-bajri vi takdi vich tolni shuru kar ditta hega. Nasha vi takdi vitch tolde nein.
Chitta powder sarkar di sheh naal vik raha hega (The Akalis have captured the sand-gravel and drug trade. The white powder is being sold with government patronage),” he tells the villagers and rattles off achievements of the Congressled UPA government.
It is the same staple venue after venue as he crisscrosses the villages of Faridkot and Moga.
April 30, Panjgrain believes, will show him the way to the Lok Sabha.