He created history when he won the Sangrur parliamentary seat with a stunning margin of two lakh votes. Known for his side-splitting stand-up comedy, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Bhagwant Mann used it to the hilt in his election rallies, creating a deadly mix that left his political adversaries speechless and people asking for more. In an interview to assistant editor Chitleen K Sethi, Mann said Punjab would prove to be AAP’s gateway to India and once Punjab assembly polls are won, AAP will come to power in at least a dozen states by 2019.
Following the high of the parliamentary polls, AAP in Punjab has taken a big hit. Two of the four MPs are suspended and the party stands divided. Where is the party headed?
I compare the situation to a person having chicken pox. It is better to have it once; the earlier you have it the easier it is to manage. Our party is new in Punjab and will go through the growth pangs. In fact, we will declare our candidates early, by April-May, 2016, so that whatever has to go wrong can be repaired while there is still time. By the end of it, we will be a strong, united solid alternative for people.
You have been in controversy this year, bringing your popularity graph down: be it a divorce petition, recorded conversations of trying to break the party or having got on to a rally stage drunk.
The allegations about my getting on the stage drunk were the most damaging. These were completely false. But I realised that I am in politics and if I go about criticising Sukhbir and Majithia the way I do, they, too, can get back at me. Regarding the divorce, it was painful and a personal setback but I could not stop it. There was nothing wrong with conversation with Dharamvira Gandhi . It was in the party’s interest. Personally, these experiences have been important learning moments, and politically, I have gained in popularity. My supporters feel I am being targeted unnecessarily and sympathise with me.
As the AAP campaign committee chairman, what will be your focus areas in the election year?
Punjab’s youth. Our campaign will focus on the aspirations of the youth. They need jobs and quality education. Drugs, too, is their problem and finally corruption affects them the most in terms of equal opportunities. Even among farmers, 80% of those who committed suicide in the past one year were below 30.
Will the AAP election campaign agenda be a secular, non-communal, non-religious development agenda or will it be some kind of religious or semi- religious agenda pandering to the Sikh vote bank?
Our campaign will be totally secular, non-communal and non-religious. Religion is a matter of personal choice and the AAP does not mix politics with religion. Khalistan is not on our agenda and we had no participation, in any form, at the radical Sarbat Khalsa . Even the radicals, when they contest polls, promise to abide by the Constitution. Then, how are they demanding a separate nation?
Do you see yourself as the CM candidate?
In the AAP, we don’t look upon ourselves as anything more than a team member. Just like AAP leaders, the chief minister will also be a man from among the common people. It is going to be an aam aadmi versus two rajwade (Amarinder and Sukhbir). People hate the Badals and everyone knows that Amarinder wants only power and comfort. These two are now together and are trying to paint the AAP as a non-serious player. It is fine with us as the underdogs will win.
How do you react to Navjot Singh Sidhu’s possible entry into the AAP? Do you feel threatened?
Though I think there is no move to get Sidhu into the party, but if it happens, we will welcome him. There is need for such people in the party. He is a good orator. He can also connect with people through effective speeches, and that would take care of half my job.
What has been your most important achievements as MP?
My biggest achievement has been the way we managed to save thousands of Punjabi youth stuck in Iraq. That was something even the Centre with all its machinery and technology failed to do. We achieved it with two mobile phones. I am also proud of my performance in the Lok Sabha. Be it the Question Hour, discussions or call attention notices, I am among top four MPs in the country.
What about your differences with other AAP MPs, especially Dharamvira Gandhi?
I have no personal differences with anyone. In fact, I was the bridge between Harinder Khalsa and Gandhi. They have been suspended because they were refusing to abide by even the minimum discipline of the party. I don’t see them playing a prominent role in the AAP in future as they continue to side with those who are against AAP.
How does the AAP view the reorientation of the Akalis as secular and Badals’ sharp condemnation of radicals and their demands?
The Akalis have always used religion in one way or the other to gain political mileage. We don’t do such things, so we know what they are up to. But we are clear that even if we take up issues of Sikhs, we would not draw political mileage out of it.
With Amarinder’s entry on to the centre-stage of the Congress, is there any possibility of an alliance with the Congress to defeat the Akalis?
Captain Amarinder Singh is so discredited, thanks to the five years of his government, that he had to take a gutka and swear by it to make people believe in him again. He is a failed leader. There is no question of a poll alliance with the Congress.