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Lok Sabha Elections 2019: AAP’s most popular face in Punjab, Sangrur MP Bhagwant Singh Mann has a fight at hand

Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Bhagwant Singh Mann, AAP’s Sangrur MP, continues to be its most popular face in Punjab and heads the state unit, but the real challenges lie ahead of him – the most formidable being to lead a divided party and retain his seat at the same time in the parliamentary elections.

people Updated: Mar 08, 2019 16:21 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
lok sabha elections 2019,sangrur MP,bhagwant singh mann
Sangrur MP Bhagwant Singh Mann with his Arvind Kejriwal, convenor of Aam Aadmi (AAP) during a rally in Barnala, Jan 20, 2019. (PTI File )

Bhagwant Mann is not your typical Punjabi politician. A stand-up comedian with razor-sharp wit, he made a career in the entertainment business by cracking jokes on politicians, developing connect with people in rural Punjab as his popularity soared.

When the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fielded him in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Mann, who had failed to make waves in his first electoral outing in the assembly polls two years earlier, was the star of the party’s stunning debut in Punjab politics with a resounding victory in Sangrur. He also led the campaign in the 2017 assembly elections that saw the AAP emerge as the principal opposition party.

The first-time MP continues to be its most popular face in Punjab and heads the state unit, but the real challenges lie ahead of him – the most formidable being to lead a divided party and retain his seat at the same time in the parliamentary elections.

Infighting in state unit

The AAP has been scarred by internal bickering and desertions with a third of its 20 MLAs charting their own course. Two of them, Sukhpal Singh Khaira and Baldev Singh, have floated the Punjabi Ekta Party (PEP). The other five MLAs support Khaira, but have not quit the AAP. They never miss an opportunity to have a go at Mann.

One of them, Pirmal Singh Dhaula, who represents Bhadaur assembly segment in the Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency, says he does not have any reason to support the party nominee. “We will support like-minded candidates,” he says. The party had won five of the nine assembly constituencies in Sangrur in 2017.

Mann will have to deal with these dissenters, besides rival candidates who are still to be named by the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Another problem is the low morale that has set in among party cadres. The infighting has divided the AAP at the grassroots, leaving supporters, who saw the party born out of the anti-corruption crusade as the harbinger of change, disillusioned.

Barnala resident Nihal Singh says the rift will hurt the party. “AAP supporters are split into two groups. The enthusiasm seen in the previous two elections is missing, but a lot will depend on candidates of other major parties,” he adds.

The Sangrur MP, however, does not see the AAP breakaway faction or the dissident legislators as too much of a problem, though. “Barring Khaira, all others are first-timers. Could they have won their assembly seats without the party symbol (broom)?” he asks.

The party is also in talks with the SAD (Taksali) for an alliance to limit the damage. The tie-up to be announced in a day or two will be a fillip for the AAP in Majha, where its presence is negligible.

Counting on rural connect

Known to be accessible and responsive, Mann is banking on his strong rural connect and development works carried out under the MP Local Area Development scheme. The AAP leader, who is crisscrossing his constituency, has allocated funds for libraries, smart classrooms and modern furniture in schools, health equipment, solar lights, upgrade of sport facilities, gymnasiums and security apparatus.

“Wifi-connected CCTV systems have been set up in Sunam, Dhuri and Barnala. Similar networks of cameras are being put up in Bhawanigarh, Khanauri and Sherpur. Being an opposition MP, I have done the best I could,” he says, hoping that his work and goodwill earned by helping hundreds of youth stranded abroad will stand him in good stead.

“My work stands out because those who represented Sangrur in the past did not do anything. This is the first time someone has raised their voice in Parliament,” he says. His party colleague, Aman Arora, the MLA from Sunam, backs his claim, citing his development works and ability to strike a chord with people as his biggest strengths.

But Sangrur Congress MLA Vijay Inder Singla and Dhuri Congress MLA Dalvir Singh Goldy dismiss the claims.

Singla, who is the state PWD minister, says Mann made lots of promises but did nothing as compared to efforts he put in to bring development . “He started showing up only at the fag end,” he adds.

Goldy echoes similar views. “Other than distributing his grant, he did nothing,” he says.

Though Mann exudes confidence, he faces a tough fight in a constituency that is not known to repeat sitting MPs.

First Published: Mar 08, 2019 16:21 IST