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Punjab election results 2017: AAP’s Bhagwant Mann dons many hats

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-03-2017 Amrit Raj

New Delhi: Comedian-turned-politician, agent provocateur or simply a loose cannon, Lok Sabha member of Parliament (MP) from Sangrur Bhagwant Mann has been labelled in various hues.

That being said, he has been the star campaigner for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which contested the assembly elections in the state for the first time, trying to leverage the two-term anti-incumbency against the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine.

Mann, a sitting MP contested from the Jalalabad constituency against Punjab’s deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and may even be considered for the top role in the state if the AAP fares well.

“He has been our star campaigner drawing huge crowds and has taken the Akalis head on with his signature song— Kikli kaleer di, gupp Sukhbir di, chitta mere bhai da, Salwinder to vikayi da, dasso kina chahida,” according to a central leader of the AAP.

Kikli are sung by girls in Punjab while circling around holding their hands. This particular song is supposedly sung by Harsimrat Kaur Badal and loosely translated into English insinuates that while Sukhbir spins yarns, drugs procured from the border by her brother Bikram Singh Majithia are been distributed freely.

This song has been the trigger for many a flash points between Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and AAP supporters.

“Bhagwant was a comedian and was doing quite well for himself. His communication was built around political satire which he has turned into a potent weapon during the AAP campaign,” said a Punjab-based AAP leader who also didn’t wish to be named.

The largely agrarian state is reportedly facing a severe rural distress due to substantial farm debt and deepening drug abuse, which may add among multiple other anti-incumbency factors for the ruling combine.

“Also, unlike other politicians he speaks extempore, without a safety net. Interestingly, while there have been film stars and artists turning into politicians, they have joined a political party only after being assured of its winnability. Bhagwant joined AAP after unsuccessfully contesting from Manpreet Badal’s People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) which formally merged with the Congress. This speaks volumes about his beliefs,” added the AAP leader.

Mann stands in stark contrast to Congress’s suave Captain Amarinder Singh, the erstwhile royal from Patiala. While being erudite, Mann is rustic in comparison to Doon educated Singh who carries an old world charm and sophistication. To many in Punjab’s hinterland, Mann’s rusticity is his advantage which he has carefully cultivated.

Mann also relies heavily on symbolism and has imbibed almost all of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s persona including wearing a basanti (saffron) coloured turban and emulating the revolutionary’s mannerisms.

Mann doesn’t deny the projection of Bhagat Singh’s leitmotif in his persona in a telephone interview.

“I have been inspired by Bhagat Singh since my childhood. All the vehicles I bought were first taken to Bhagat Singh’s ancestral village of Khatkar Kalan for paying obeisance. Also, after I became MP, I took the MP’s certificate to Khatkar Kalan first. The idea is to make the government open its ears to listen to the people’s grievances like Bhagat Singh compelled them to do,” Mann, who is a National Basketball Association (NBA) fan said.

Mann who claims to have held 500 rallies during AAP’s Punjab campaign wakes up early to catch his favourite team Cleveland Cavaliers and player Lebron James in action.

“I am also a huge football fan with my current favourite club being Chelsea,” said Mann, a self confessed sports fan.

Mann is not immune to controversy and has been away from the Parliament after he was suspended for the winter session for uploading a security detail video online.

“Issues get created around the person who raises his voice. The idea was to create a wrong perception about me. There are different yardsticks applied for different people...My experience has been like trying to sit in a crowded bus. First you won’t like to accommodate someone on the seat on which you are sitting. After sometime you adjust,” Mann said.

“While there are 13 MPs from Punjab in Lok Sabha, his is the only voice from and for the state heard there,” added the Punjab based AAP leader quoted above.

To AAP a win in Punjab will be the perfect launch pad for its national ambitions—especially in two-party-ruled states involving the Congress.

With a gradual turnaround in Chelsea’s fortunes after defeating London rivals West Ham United earlier this week, is Mann the Antonio Conte that AAP has been waiting for?

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