A taxi driver who defeated an Akali heavyweight, a photographer, an art teacher who turned to social work, a sacked lineman, and a former news reporter — they are among the aam aadmis (common people) elected to power in the Punjab assembly elections that saw a third front, Aam Aadmi Party, emerge as the principal opposition.
Amarjit Singh Sandoa, 39, who defeated Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) heavyweight Daljit Singh Cheema, who was an incumbent minister, from Rupnagar, says he had never dreamt of joining politics, leave alone becoming an MLA, when he was driving a taxi in Delhi on a meagre monthly salary of Rs 2,800 in 1998. “I simply wanted to work hard, and earn an honest living.” That he certainly did, buying his first taxi on loan in 2003. Today he owns a fleet.
When Anna Hazare started his movement in 2011, he was quick to join it. “That was the time I was drawn to Arvind Kejriwal and his team,” recalls Sandoa, who laid the foundations of the AAP in Rupnagar and was among the first to get the party ticket. Illegal mining, he says, is the biggest issue in his constituency besides unemployment. And he plans to tackle both.
Unemployment is the prime issue that drove Pirmal Singh Dhaula, 36, to victory from Bhadaur. The tawny-eyed youngster, who has been heading an agitation of electricity linemen for jobs, defeated Balvir Singh Ghunas, two-time Akali MLA, by over 20,000 votes. “I remember staging a dharna in front of Capt Amarinder Singh’s palace in 2003, and getting lathi-charged,” he smiles. Amarinder is the chief minister in the Congress regime.
The SAD-BJP government gave him a lineman’s job in 2011 only to fire him on charges of provoking protests. Jailed five times, he is now looking forward to his stint in the assembly. “Pehlan main road te bolda si, hun Vidhan Sabha vich bolunga (I used to speak on the road; now I will speak in the legislative assembly).
Jai Krishan Singh Rodi, 33, the AAP winner from Garhshankar, who defeated two-time Congress MLA Luv Kumar Goldy among others, is also eagerly awaiting the assembly session so that he can raise the traffic issue. “Politics was never on my agenda,” says Rodi, a photographer who set up his studio at the age of 17. “Growing up, I just wanted to become financially independent. Since government jobs were scarce, I learnt photography,” he recalls. The AAP gave him a platform to mobilise the youth and the seat was his.
Rodi says today his conscience-keeper is his son Sukh Dilman Singh, a Class-2 student, who was also his star campaigner. “It’s a heavy responsibility,” he smiles.
Manjit Singh, 40, a journalist-turned-politician from Nihalsinghwala who defeated the sitting Congress MLA by over 27,000 votes, agrees. He says he was always a keen commentator on social evils besides being a member of a dozen social welfare clubs. “But over time I realised that writings don’t change things.”
Newly-minted AAP leaders spoke his language of social reform. Manjit, who was working with the Punjabi daily Ajit, clandestinely helped the party for a while until he got an ultimatum from his employers in May 2016. “I decided to throw my lot with the AAP,” says Manjit, who has no reasons to regret his decision. He is not worried about being in opposition. “So what? Assi poora raula pawange (we will create enough noise), will create awareness among people,” says Manjit, who rues that there are hardly any teachers or doctors in his constituency.
Jagtar Singh Jagga Hissowal, 42, who wrested Raikot, once the stronghold of the Talwandi family, also complains about bad roads and poor bus service to villages. The seat is a dream come true for this former art teacher, who is also a part-time painter and film actor besides being a full-time social worker. Hissowal, who was with the Sehajdhari Sikh Federation, says he joined the AAP because he saw a future with the party.
Though in opposition, these winners say their party has already made an impact. Dhaula points to the simple swearing-in ceremony. “The CM is also talking of doing away with the VIP culture,” he says. So, no hooters or gunmen for these MLAs? “I am a simple taxi driver, and that is how I intend to remain,” Sandoa signs off.