Punjab polls: Bhagwant is AAP’s Mann of the moment

Mann, 48, who is also the AAP’s Punjab president, is easily the party’s most recognisable face in the state, where polls are scheduled on February 20. His selection following a phone-based survey in which 93.3% of the 21.59 lakh respondents favoured him is on the expected lines
Bhagwant Mann has been declared AAP’s CM face for Punjab polls.
Bhagwant Mann has been declared AAP’s CM face for Punjab polls.
Updated on Jan 18, 2022 09:39 PM IST
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Chandigarh: The announcement of two-time Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann’s name by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal as the party’s chief ministerial face in Punjab on Tuesday has not come as a surprise.

Mann, 48, who is also the AAP’s Punjab president, is easily the party’s most recognisable face in the state, where polls are scheduled on February 20. His selection following a phone-based survey in which 93.3% of the 21.59 lakh respondents favoured him is on the expected lines.

Mann, who has faced several controversies, is a proven crowd-puller for his party for which he has been leading the campaign since its electoral debut in the state. His folksy style topped by quick wit and biting sarcasm, particularly “kikli” (satirical speeches) targeting politicians and issues, have been a huge hit in the rural areas of Punjab, particularly the Malwa region, which sends 69 of the 117 lawmakers to the assembly, on which the party is counting a lot.

Mann’s tryst with politics

Mann, a college drop-out, is a standup comedian-turned-politician. He took the political plunge in 2011 by joining the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP), a party set up by Manpreet Singh Badal (now in the Congress) after he parted ways with the Akalis. He took on former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal of the Congress in Lehra assembly constituency in the 2012 elections, but came third. When Manpreet allied with the Congress, Mann did not follow him, opting for the AAP instead, and he has not looked back since.

In 2014, Mann won the Sangrur seat by more than 2.11 lakh votes, which was the highest margin in the state. When the newbie outfit contested its first assembly election in 2017, he crisscrossed the state to campaign for the party candidates, besides taking on SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal in the latter’s stronghold of Jalalabad. He lost and came second ahead of Congress’ Ravneet Singh Bittu, now MP from Ludhiana. But the AAP won 20 seats to become the principal opposition party in Punjab. In the 2019 national polls, when all other AAP candidates in the state lost their security deposits, Mann again retained the Sangrur seat by over 1.11 lakh votes.

Mann is the lone AAP MP in the Lok Sabha, but has been grabbing attention regularly with his quick wit and sharp digs at the rival BJP and Congress. He has also worked assiduously to help Punjabi youth and women stranded abroad return home.

Brush with controversies

The humorist was in the new for all wrong reasons a few years ago after his embarrassing videos showing him in an inebriated state. In January 2019, he took a public pledge, with his mother Harpal Kaur by his side, to quit alcohol to avoid any embarrassment to the party. “I have taken a solemn vow to say no to booze for good in my mother’s presence,” he told a gathering at a rally also attended by Kejriwal.

Mann’s rivals have often portrayed him as unfit for public office because of his past drinking problem. A campaign with hashtag #Pegwant is being run on social media to target him, despite his statements that he has given up alcohol. After being named the CM face, he told a news channel that people of Punjab have put their stamp of approval on him and his rivals have nothing else to say against him. “They cannot accuse me of corruption or send ED (Enforcement Directorate) after me. I have a clean image. I still live in a rented house. They have been saying this about me for 11 years,” he said.

Mann was once also accused of compromising parliamentary security by live-streaming the security arrangements at the Parliament House on social media and several parties had demanded action against him.

Serious bid for top job

Born in Satoj village of Sangrur district, Mann, who came out with his first satire in 1992 and then became a household name with his popular albums and TV shows like “Kulfi Garam Garam”, “Mithiya Mircha” and “Jugnu Mast Mast”, is making a serious bid for the top post. Though his political rivals often criticize him for being “facile” on governance and policy detail, he has started laying out his vision and roadmap for the state lately. Gone is the relaxed demeanour and jokes, and the burden of responsibility and growing expectations is writ large on his face these days. A tireless campaigner with ability to tilt the scales, Mann is undoubtedly AAP’s man of the moment.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    A senior assistant editor, Navneet Sharma leads the Punjab bureau for Hindustan Times. He writes on politics, public affairs, civil services and the energy sector.

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