Updated: January 19, 2022 12:21:12 am
It took barely 10 years for Bhagwant Mann to undertake his remarkable journey from being a professional comedian to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming Punjab Assembly elections.
A well known film and TV comedian of Punjab, Mann had brought out numerous entertainment cassettes before the advent of the digital and video era. Widely known for having played many comic roles in his satirical shows on various ills besetting the society, Mann has been popular in Punjab for one of his such characters, “Jugnu”, and for his earliest shows like “Kulfi garma garam”.
Mann began his political journey by joining the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) in 2011, which had been formed by Manpreet Badal, who had broken away from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Manpreet joined the Congress after his party failed to win any seats in the 2012 Assembly polls. Mann contested that election as a PPP candidate from the Lehra constituency but came third.
He joined the AAP in March 2014 and fought the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Sangrur where he defeated Akali stalwart Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa by more than 2 lakh votes. He retained that seat in the 2019 elections by a margin of more then one lakh votes and was the only AAP MP to be re-elected from Punjab from among the four party MPs who were elected in the 2014 elections.
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Mann was appointed the AAP’s Punjab unit president in May 2017 following the Assembly polls after Gurpreet Guggi resigned from the post. Guggi also raised serious concerns over Mann’s “drinking problem” which resonated within the AAP for a long time.
In March 2018, soon after AAP supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal apologised to Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia for making false allegations of drug trade against him, Mann resigned as the state party chief in protest. No action on his resignation was however taken by the AAP leadership and no successor appointed for ten months, following which Mann was again made the party unit chief ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
At a rally in Barnala in January 2019, Kejriwal had taken up the matter of Mann’s drinking problem and announced that the latter had given up drinking for the sake of Punjab. Mann echoed the AAP supremo’s remarks in the presence of his mother on the stage. Later, however, there were again allegations that Mann had gone back on his word, even as the matter has been regularly raked up against him by his opponents within and outside the AAP.
The AAP leadership had reportedly dithered over naming Mann as the CM face for a long time and was actively looking at other options but failed to find one. It also could not ignore the fact that Mann is a big draw among the youths of Punjab, especially in rural areas.
On Tuesday, when the 48-year-old Mann was named the AAP’s CM face for the 20 February Punjab Assembly polls after he got a thumping majority in a phone-in poll conducted by the party, he could not hold back his tears as Kejriwal hugged him.
Making an emotional speech on the occasion, Mann said there will be hard work in the party’s bid to form the government, but he urged party supporters not to be disheartened by any developments. Quoting Punjabi poet Surjit Patar, Professor Mohan Singh and South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, Mann urged party activists to work for a better Punjab. He recited the verses of Patar: “Je aayi patjhar ta pher ki hai /Tu agli rutt te yaqeen rakhi / Main labb ke layona kalman kiton / Tu phullan jogi zameen rakhi” (It does not matter if autumn comes, you keep hope for the coming spring, I will bring new plants, you keep some land for flowers).
A visibly-emotional mother of Mann, Harpal Kaur joined her hands in prayers seeking blessings from Guru Nanak and the people of Punjab so that he could work for the sake of the state. “I am just a mother who gave birth to him. There are lakhs of mothers who keep praying for him. Had his father been alive today, he would have been the most happy man,” she said.
Mann got divorced in March 2015 months after being elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time. His ex-wife lives in USA with their two children, a son and a daughter. Mann has said on earlier occasions that he manages to speak to his children sometimes. At the time of his divorce, Mann, in a Facebook post, had stated, “Jo latkeya si chiran ton o hal ho geya / Court ch eh faisla kal ho geya / Ek passay parivar, dujje passay si parivar / Main tan yarro Punjab de wal ho geya.” (A long-pending issue has been resolved. The court decided yesterday. I had to choose between one family and the other. I decided to go with Punjab).
One of the major reasons for the AAP’s lacklustre performance in the 2017 Punjab elections was considered to be its lack of a CM candidate. With the AAP now emerging as a key contender in the upcoming Punjab polls, all eyes will be now on Mann if he can lead the party to victory.
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