After 25 years, as Simranjeet Singh Mann (69) is back in the parliamentary constituency of his “rebirth”, seeking another mandate, times and the agenda also have changed. In 1989, Khadoor Sahib constituency was Tarn Taran, and contesting from Bhagalpur Jail, he had won with a record margin of 4.6-lakh votes (he polled 5.33 lakh) without stepping into the area even once. Now, as president of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), he walks the dusty campaign trail from village to village.
Before a public meeting at Dugri village, a dhadi jatha (band of devotional singers) gathers the audience for him. Their songs are about current issues: not separate state Khalistan as 25 years ago but fight against drugs. “Smacks ne ghar ghar ujardita…(smack ruined every household),” sing the dhadis , then Mann makes a speech.
“Akalis say their symbol is Guru Nanak’s takri (scales) but, shockingly, they are weighing smack in it,” said Mann, adding that guns claimed a generation of youth in Punjab and smack was going to claim the next.
In 1984, Mann resigned from the Indian Police Service (IPS) post of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) commandant in Mumbai in protest against Operation Bluestar, military raid on the Golden Temple to flush out armed militants.
On a charge of treason, he was detained for five years and was released unconditionally three days after winning the December 1989 parliamentary elections, all charges dropped.
In 1996, he moved to Sangrur but lost. In 1998, he again lost to Surjeet Singh Barnala; but in 1999, had his revenge. After 1999, his political graph nosedived and he lost both 2004 and 2009 contests.
“I am glad to come back to the constituency that gave me rebirth in 1989; without which I would have died in jail,” said Mann. He can’t justify why he left the constituency in 1996 to contest from Sangrur.
“You filled me with pride that I still behold. I have not let you down, not mixed with the usual politicians,” he tells the voters, to applause from the audience.
Pitted against Harminder Singh Gill of the Congress and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura of the SAD, he calls the former a chor (thief) and the latter “middle pass, who only made money while in politics”.
“Both can’t utter a word in Parliament,” said Mann, forgetting that he didn’t even take oath as MP in 1989, as he insisted on taking his kirpan into the House but was disallowed.
“Dictators such as Mussolini, (World War 2 Japanese prime minister Hideki) Tojo and Hitler did lots of development but they killed thousands of innocent people,” said Mann, taking a dig at the development agenda of the Akali-BJP alliance.
He termed Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as “most cruel” for dispossessing Sikh farmers of Kutch of their land.
Knowing well that the Khalistan issue was dead, Mann didn’t fail to tell the audience that whenever a separate state would come into existence, maybe 100 years down, people would remember that he had raised the issue.