“People set up their business out of money earned through politics, we are using money from our family business to do politics.” Meet the Bains brothers of Ludhiana, the two independent MLAs who are in news more as “lawbreakers” than lawmakers.
Doggedly opposed to the ruling clan of the Badals and by tenaciously projecting themselves as a formidable opposition by raising the bogey of “mafia raj”, they have at times even overshadowed the main opposition parties in the state, both inside and outside the state assembly.
In scenes right out of a Bollywood blockbuster, 57-year-old Balwinder Bains and his brother Simarjeet Bains, 44, hold “durbars” to listen to problems of people, offer instant justice and threaten government officials demanding a bribe. They also make the “corrupt pay for their sins” by asking them to donate their “ill-gotten’ money to gurdwaras, widow homes or orphanages. They hold protests, court arrests and their dialogues — “Bains kadi vi beimaani de karan jail nayi gaye (Bains have never gone to jail for being dishonest) and “beiman afsar Badalo ki sunte hai, jo nahi wo janta ki (corrupt officials listen to the ruling Badals, those who are not, listen to the public) — are now part of folklore in their constituencies in Ludhiana.
Called “blackmailers” and “goons” by political rivals and some officials, they claim to offer “right to service without bribe” through their anti-corruption helpline and “sewa kendra” for procuring government documents, subsidies and pensions.
To match the “pro-poor and street-fighters” image they have tediously built over the years, they still live in narrow streets of Kot Mangal Singh in Ludhiana (south) — the constituency of elder brother, Balwinder. The ancestral house built by their father accommodates 17 members of four families. The other two brothers are industrialists and run a flourishing business of making bodies of sewing machines that are marketed by leading companies. “Our salary as MLA and our family business fund our politics. We still live in the ancestral house and at times have to wait for using the bathroom,” says Simarjeet, an MLA from Atam Nagar in Ludhiana.
Now their family has extended, he adds, referring to the Awaaz-e-Punjab, the front stitched up by the duo along with suspended Akali Dal MLA Pargat Singh and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu. The new front, with its strong “anti-Badal, anti-corruption” pitch, is already threatening to steal the thunder of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is busy fighting its own demons ahead of the Punjab elections.
But Bains brothers’ joining the new front is old news. They have made bigger headlines last week after being forcibly evicted from the Punjab assembly on Friday on orders of speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal. The video was meticulously shot by a youngster of Team Insaaf, led by the Bains brothers, and posted on the Facebook page of Simarjeet. The video shows MLA raising slogans against the government and telling security men deployed outside the state assembly that “they work for people not the Badals”. The video has gone viral with over 4 lakh “likes” on Facebook and more than 4,000 shares.
Helping the Bains brothers ride the social media wave is a team of four-five IT professionals managed by a local Ludhiana firm that claims it works for them free of cost. The building that houses their social media room is adjacent to their residence and the new, refurbished “sewa” office with air-conditioners, glass counters and new chairs. Both the buildings, Simarjeet claims, were sold to them by well-meaning neighbours to help them keep up the “good work”.
But many see them as “headline-hunters” owing to their frequent brush with notoriety. Simarjeet was booked for alleged assault and stripping of tehsildar GS Benipal in 2009. Others see them as “opportunists”. The duo parted ways with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal, joined hands and yet again parted ways with him three times in as many years between the 2012 assembly elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls over denial of ticket to contest.
Inside the assembly, they hobnobbed with the Congress and later wooed the AAP. Now, they have jumped onto the Sidhu-Pargat bandwagon. Looking back, Balwinder says it was a “blunder” to have joined the Akali ranks. “But it gave us an insight into the real Akali Dal. In their meetings, people fought for L1 licences (for liquor dealerships). We realised it was not the place for us. The Badals tried to buy us by offering the post of chief parliamentary secretary twice. But we said there can be no ghar wapasi (homecoming) to a home that is dirty,” he said.
But none of the notoriety seems to ruffle them. Despite their brazen disregard for the government and “babushahi” (officialdom), they claim while Congress MLAs and AAP MPs cry hoarse over officials not heeding their requests, they are able to get works of people done through the same officials as they have the ability to shut their shop. “I call up the SDM-level officials myself, the junior engineer (JE)-level ones are handled by my team,” says Simarjeet.
The chit that works
With great pride, the brothers narrate how they caught the corrupt through sting operations. “In days of mobile phones, an audio and video sting is easier, but we were able to do stings even with landline phones. We caught an official taking bribe and made him pay Rs 1.1 lakh to an NGO working for widows. No one is allowed to do dadagiri (bully),” Simarjeet says.
“Even transgenders have been told not to harass people after birth of a son or marriage in a family by asking Rs 11,000 or Rs 51,000. The families take our chit (paper slip) with our stamp and only pay what they can,” says Simarjeet, who like his brother, went on to become an MLA after his stint as a councillor in the Ludhiana civic body.
In public, they refer to each other as “vaade and chotte Bains saab”, but the difference between the two is as stark as their white and black Toyota Fortuner SUVs. Balwinder, by his own admission, is milder and less rigid. “Simarjeet is impulsive. If we get a complaint, he wants to act on it instantly. I tell him we can act on it the next morning. Most of the times, he obeys,” Balwinder says.
The elder Bains is an amritdhari (baptised) Sikh and Simarjeet, the “militant” face, a passionate orator, who believes in “street justice”. “We are called blackmailers and goons. But we cannot be called dishonest. I never claim allowances for meetings of committees of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha if no work is done.” But what allows them to be a law unto themselves, he says: “There is a law to punish the corrupt, but the problem is those who have to enforce it are corrupt too.”
Their ambition has grown but Lok Sabha elections results, when Simarjeet lost, have shown their popularity does not go beyond their constituencies. So from April 1 last year, they had started spreading Team Insaaf beyond Ludhiana district, says Balwinder. “We have now set up base in other assembly segments,” he added.
They are an importance piece of front floated by Sidhu. But they keep the suspense on whether their Insaaf Party has been merged into the new front saying it will all be revealed in a few days. “Sidhu is a legend and an institution. As for Pargat, no ball that touched his hockey stick went without scoring a goal,” they add. For themselves, they have an anecdote: “A poor vendor once warned a cop who was lifting his groundnuts for free, “Bains ko phone karu?”