A veteran Akali who largely spent the last two decades on the margins of Punjab politics, Simranjit Singh Mann has been involved in controversies since defeating the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Sangrur Lok Sabha bypoll. He invited backlash last month after again calling Bhagat Singh a “terrorist” and then got his remarks expunged in the Lok Sabha after objecting to President Droupadi Murmu being referred to as “Rashtrapati”.
But this is not the first time the 77-year-old Mann has been at the centre of a controversy in Parliament. In 1990, he resigned as MP after being denied entry into Parliament with his kirpan, which is a symbol of the Sikh faith.
The founder-president of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), or SAD(A), has been on the upswing since his political resurrection in the Sangrur bypoll in June and now his next objective is ending the Badal family’s control of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the Sikh community’s apex religious body.
Mann surprised everyone by winning Sangrur as the seat was considered an AAP stronghold and he himself had last won a Lok Sabha election from the constituency in 1999. To date, Mann has contested 14 elections, nine of which have been Lok Sabha polls. Of those nine polls, he has contested seven times from Sangrur and once each from Taran Taran and Khadoor Sahib. While he has thrice won the elections to the Lower House of Parliament, his track record is poor in the Assembly polls. He has lost elections to the state Assembly all five times. He contested the polls from five different constituencies.
Mann, who was born in Shimla, hails from a family with a military background. His father, Lt Col Joginder Singh Mann, became Punjab Vidhan Sabha Speaker in 1967. The year before, Mann graduated from Panjab University (PU) with a gold medal in Punjabi religion, history, and political science.
He became an IPS officer and served in senior positions such as the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Ferozepur and Faridkot, and deputy director of the Vigilance Bureau. According to records, in his police career, Mann arrested 7,403 smugglers bringing drugs over from Pakistan.
The SAD(A) chief resigned from the police on June 18, 1984, in protest against Operation Blue Star at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. In November that year, he was arrested on charges of sedition and conspiracy. He was charged, among other things, with a conspiracy to assassinate former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But Mann was released in November 1989 after he won his debut Lok Sabha election from Taran Taran. That election marked the peak of Mann’s political career as six other candidates of his party were also elected to the Lok Sabha.
At the time, Mann headed the United Akali Dal that had been formed in 1987 after Akal Takht Jathedar Darshan Singh ordered the dissolution of all SAD factions. But Mann could not keep control over all the Akali factions and the boycott of the 1992 Assembly polls by Sikh militants and several Akali factions damaged his political standing and popularity. Two years later, the SAD(A) emerged following the Amritsar Declaration of 1994. But the popularity of SAD (A) declined and soon after Mann was the only notable name left in the party.
Despite his repeated defeats for more than two decades, he managed to keep his party’s organisation intact across the state, which is especially strong in Sangrur. Notably, the SAD(A) is the only mainstream party in Punjab that has all along been demanding Khalistan. Dal Khalsa and some other separatist parties, who used to contest elections, no longer believe in the electoral system.
Asked about the string of poll defeats he faced, Mann has told The Indian Express earlier, “I have fought numerous elections and have faced defeats for many years. However, I have never accepted defeat. Our party fights for the Sikh people and all other communities that have been deprived of their rights and are subject to oppression by the majoritarian state.”
Though a Panthic politician through and through, the SAD(A) chief has also tried to cultivate an image of a leader willing to reach out to other communities. During his recent bypoll campaign, he was seen walking with people of all religions at roadshows. During his last parliamentary tenure, he got cow sheds built in his constituency.
Mann steams ahead
Since winning the by-election, Mann has said that he will take up the issue of wheat exports to Pakistan via the Wagah border and has expressed his objection to any attempt to make PU a central university. During the campaign, the SAD(A) chief said, “If they take away PU from us, we will, in a symbolic protest, start getting enrolled in PU Lahore.”
But, more than anything else, Mann wants to end the Badals’ grip on the SGPC. He had won the SGPC elections in 1996 and 2004 from Bassi Pathana, but the religious body’s elections have not been held for the last 11 years. “Now, our next target is to dethrone the Badals from gurdwaras,” said SAD(A) leader Jaswant Singh Cheema.