Down from four seats from Punjab in 2014 to just one in 2019, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) found its hero in stand up comedian turned politician Bhagwant Mann who won from Sangrur by 1.10 lakh votes defeating Congress’ Kewal Singh Dhillon. He spoke to The Indian Express after his victory. Excerpts:
You are the only winner for Aam Aadmi Party today. Do you see this as a victory of AAP or of your personal charisma?
AAP is Bhagwant Mann and Bhagwant Mann is AAP. We are like Heer-Ranjha who are madly in love and incomplete without each other. My performance as an MP in five years played a crucial role. I gave people hisaab of Rs 26.61 crore I spent for them. People of Sangrur have shown that one who will work will rule their hearts.
Why do you think Congress and SAD were unable to defeat you? What makes you special? Is it your talent to make people laugh as a comedian?
Let me make this clear today, I am not a comedian. I am a social critic and political satirist. The opposition parties say that I make people laugh with chutkuley (jokes). Sorry, I don’t tell jokes to people, jokes are meaningless. I give them satirical criticism on politics which can make them understand issues with a dose of humor. My opponent, Kewal Singh Dhillon, declared he has watches worth Rs 16 lakh…kya faayda 16 lakh ki ghadiyon ka… waqt to phir bhi bura chal raha hai… (What use are watches worth Rs 16 lakh. He still is having a bad time). SAD-BJP and Congress failed to defeat me because I live in the hearts of people. Captain Amarinder Singh and Badals live in palaces. Mehlon mein rehne walon ko dilon mein rehne wale ne hara dia (People living in palaces have been defeated by a man living in hearts of people). Opposition should stop saying that I only know how to crack jokes. Then why did they (Congress) call Gurpreet Ghuggi to campaign? Wo kya ghazal sunaata hai?
The other AAP candidates failed to perform? Is infighting the reason? What is your plan ahead for AAP being the state president?
We will introspect over the results. If party infighting is the reason, why it did not affect me? In fact, I was the one who was blamed the most for making people leave AAP. Those who left AAP – Sukhpal Singh Khaira, Dharamvira Gandhi, Jassi Jasraj – all of them have lost. In fact, congratulations to Khaira! He went to Bathinda to make Harsimrat Badal win and his mission stands accomplished. Soon we will have (assembly) bypolls in Punjab and then we have Delhi and Punjab state elections. The target is Punjab 2022 and it is my duty to prepare AAP for it. There will be winners and only winners from AAP. That is my promise to people of Punjab.
But you cannot deny that AAP has performed poorly compared to 2014. How will you set it right? What went wrong?
Till Bhagwant Mann is there, AAP in Punjab will remain in hearts of people. I have eliminated the gap between leaders and people. Now, it is only between aam aadmi and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). We will go to people, talk and connect them with us. There must have been loopholes, I will correct them. Mera to sirf naam hai, jitaaya to logon ke pyaar ne hai (It is people’s love that has made me victorious).
Your message for SAD-BJP and Congress winners?
I am particularly excited to see Sukhbir Singh Badal in Lok Sabha. It will be fun meeting Badal couple there. Earlier, only Harsimrat knew that Bhagwant Mann cannot be silenced. Now her husband will also know.
How are you reading the verdict given by people of Punjab – eight seats going to Congress.
People have given Captain’s government a last chance to fulfill their promises like ghar ghar naukri, farm loan waiver, free mobile phones etc. It is time for Captain to focus on his pre-poll promises now instead of (indulging in) cat fights within his party. Otherwise, Congress too will be wiped out in 2022 in Punjab like SAD-BJP.
Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has spoken against his own party alleging SAD-Congress ‘friendly match’ in protecting the desecration accused.
He has spoken the truth. He is an honest person. If it is not a Congress-SAD friendly match then what is it? Captain is blaming Sidhu for their defeat in Bathinda but actually he himself has done it. He deliberately chose a weak candidate (Raja Amarinder Singh Warring) against Harsimrat Badal. It was a deal between Captain and Sukhbir. Usne bola tu meri patni ko jeeta, main teri ko jeeta dunga. (Both made each other’s wives win). Sukhbir did that by fielding a weak candidate Surjit Singh Rakhra from Patiala against Preneet Kaur. Captain also knew (Sher Singh) Ghubaya won’t be able to defeat Sukhbir in Ferozepur still he went ahead with him as candidate. Sukhbir announced tickets for Bathinda and Ferozepur on the last day. Ab bhai Congress se baat karne mein time to lagta hai na (It took time to strike a deal with Congress). Sidhu is rightly exposing them.
Lastly, politics has taken a toll on your personal life. You separated from your wife. This election season, spouses of all other candidates were campaigning for them. Did you miss that support- emotionally and psychologically?
Yes, I miss my wife Inderpreet Kaur very much. She campaigned for me in 2014 but later we separated. It was a mutual decision as I was devoting all my time to politics. She lives in the US with our two children. They called me to congratulate after the results. She also congratulated me. Though I have huge family of my party workers, fans here and my mother but I miss her.