It’s been a month that Aman Azad, a private school van operator, has been following the same routine. After dropping students to school in the morning, Azad spends the rest of the day at the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) office at Kaula Park here.
Azad, a postgraduate in mass communication from Punjabi University, decided to change his last name from Deep Sidhu to Azad at the time of the formation of the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) and later became member of the AAP.
Like Azad, there are a number of committed youth on whom comedian-turned politician Bhagwant Mann, 40, is banking. “I don’t know them personally and they are here at the party office not to seek any favour. They are here for a common cause -- save Punjab.
Even NRIs from Canada, Australia and America have come for support,” says Mann, who is contesting on an AAP ticket from Sangrur. “I want to make it clear that AAP is not a party, it’s a revolution, and we are here to contribute our bit,” says Mann, while kicking off his campaign at 8.30am.
As he is running half-an-hour behind schedule, Mann’s core team continuously instructs him to stick to time while addressing gatherings in villages. But Mann listens to his heart and to make up for reaching late, his skill of holding the crowd comes to the fore.
“There are a number of issues in Punjab and one cannot recount them in minutes. Moreover, all these issues – unemployment, poor education and drugs -either concern you or your kids, and I know you want to hear them,” Mann tells the gathering at Akbarpur village.
Though he is late by 45 minutes, people don’t mind waiting for the popular comedian. Even while reaching late Mann doesn’t forget to make a point. “The candidates of both the Congress and SAD are sitting MPs but they didn’t do any development in villages.
The condition of roads in the constituency is bad. Either there are no roads or, if there are any, the potholes are so big that you can’t expect anybody to reach on time,” says Mann.
Mann started the campaign in his SUV Fortuner along with a tempo fitted with a PA system playing the ‘song’, ‘Vote pao Bhagwant Mann nu, jitao Bhagwant Mann nu’. As he moves from village to village, more vehicles, especially motorcycles, join the cavalcade.
While Mann climbs on top of the tempo to address the gathering at Kamalpur village, someone shouts, ‘be careful of electric wires’. In true Bhagwant style, he replies, “Eh Badal diyan tara ne, ena ch bijali nahin honi (These are Badal’s wires. They won’t have electricity current).”
If Mann is using satire to take on his opponents, his opponents are also targeting him, saying those turning up to attend his gatherings are there only to hear his jokes, they are not going to waste their vote just for a couple of jokes.
“Do you think talking about Bhagat Singh is a joke? Talking about development issues, unemployment and drugs is a joke? I am not here to crack jokes; rather the governments at the state and Centre have made a mockery of the people,” says Mann.
This is the second election for Mann. He contested the assembly election on a PPP ticket from Lehra and lost to Congress candidate Rajinder Kaur Bhattal. So, does he think that this time around, at a bigger stage, people will vote for him?
“The earlier elections were personality based and there was no party support. Even then I polled around 26,000 votes, a no mean feat. Now, there is an AAP wave and I am sure people will vote for AAP,” says Mann.
Once considered a major pillar in Manpreet Badal’s PPP, Mann decided to quit the party and join AAP. “I joined the PPP because of an ideology, but when Manpreet decided to sacrifice the ideology for vested interests and decided to contest on the Congress symbol, we parted ways,” says Mann.
After campaigning in the villages, Mann’s cavalcade reaches Dhuri at 4pm for a road show. Taking a dig at his opponents, Mann says, “Sitting MP Vijay Inder Singla says, ‘Vijay vikas hai’ but the way his property has grown in the past five years, it seems Vijay da hi vikas hai.
Dhindsa tells public gatherings that he laughs when he looks at my pictures. But on the day of results, he will cry while looking at my pictures.”
As he ends campaigning, Mann gets busy giving interviews to the radio stations of Canada, the US and the UK –countries with a size able Punjabi NRI population. “They may not come to vote but can easily influence their relatives in India,” says Mann.