LONG BEFORE they teamed up with Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Bains brothers of Ludhiana were already prominent faces in Punjab politics, aligning with or joining various parties since the 1980s and winning local and assembly elections, using their muscle to run a grievance redress forum and, of late, getting physically thrown out of the assembly after creating a fuss over an issue they had raised.
Today, Balwinder Bains and Simarjeet Singh Bains, the younger brother, are both independent MLAs, having won with huge margins in 2012, going on to extend support to SAD as associate members and then quitting the membership in 2014 when Simarjeet decided to contest the Lok Sabha polls.
“I accept that taking associate membership was the biggest mistake of my political career,” Simarjeet said. “During my Lok Sabha campaign, people used to ask me whether I would move again to SAD after the polls. I finished fourth because of that blunder.”
“They were SAD workers in the late 1980s and working with me. I introduced them both to politics,” said former SAD minister Hira Singh Gabria, who lost to Simarjeet in 2012. “They will not walk with Sidhu either [in his new forum, Awaaz-e-Punjab]. They ditch the person who promotes them.”
For about a decade in the 1990s, Balwinder Bains was with the SAD (Mann, or Amritsar) faction. In 1991, he became a independent councillor in Ludhiana, backed by this group. “I became national youth president of the party in the early 1990s but left when the party’s popularity started to wane.”
Simarjeet became an independent councillor in 2002. By 2007, he was leading a group of 17 independents. It was on his support that SAD led a majority in the general house. As a reward, Simarjeet was made president of the Youth Akali Dal in Ludhiana.
“It was decided that Simarjeet and Hakam Singh Giaspura would share the mayor’s post for two-and-a-half years each. But this didn’t happen and then Simarjeet was implicated in an assault case, and this kept him in jail for over 10 months. In 2012, SAD gave only me a ticket, due to which we quit the party,” Balwinder said.
As independents, they won from Atam Nagar and Ludhiana South. They owe much of their clout to the work they have been doing from their offices in these seats. Since 2002, they claim, they have been getting 100 visitors daily with problems relating to various government services — Aadhaar card, voter card, guidance on filling various forms, marital and land disputes.
In 2014 they launched Team Insaaf, which now has a network in about 10 districts. The brothers say it has raised issues like sand mafia and costly treatment in private hospitals. Often visiting sand mining sites to challenge the government, they have been arrested a few times.
“There are 12 FIRs against Simarjeet and most of them are for beating government officials,” alleged Gabria.
The brothers said all such cases were false. “There are many FIRs against me and all for fighting the right cause. If I am booked for providing justice to others, I am ready to be booked again,” Simarjeet said.
Last week, Simarjeet raised a question in the assembly on the Punjab government not seeking payment for water shared with Rajasthan. As they raised a noise, they were physically thrown out. “They did it for cheap publicity,” Gabria said. “Punjab’s water issue is with Haryana and Delhi.”
“The Bains brothers are opportunists who switch parties as and when it suits them,” said Congress MP Ravneet Bittu. “Time will tell how much longer they will stick to this so-called front.”
As far as the brothers are concerned, they read the action in the assembly as a sign that other parties are panicking. “Our front is in touch with many leaders and we are going to make a big change in Punjab politics,” Simarjeet said.