On a hot summer morning in Sangrur, Aam Aadmi Party’s sitting MP Bhagwant Singh Mann’s drawing room is abuzz with activity with his volunteers preparing for the long day of electioneering ahead. A group of residents from Deharka village in Jagraon subdivision of Ludhiana land up. “We have come to meet Bhagwant. Our village youth passed away in Saudi Arabia. We want his body back home,” Bikar Singh, one of them tells Mann’s volunteers.
Within a few minutes, Mann, dressed in red shorts, white T-shirt and a pair of flip-flops, enters. He asks for the details of the deceased youth. They hand him an application. “Din chad jaye mai Sushma Swaraj (Union External Affairs Minister) naal gall karanga. Fikr na karo (I will speak to Sushma Swaraj in sometime. You do not worry,” he assures them wearing a grave expression. Wasting no time he asks them, “Kinne paise kharach ke bhejeya si? (How much did you spend to send her abroad).” “12 lakh,” comes the reply.
“Ehi meri ladai hai. Common admi layi kuch ni haiga ithe. Koi sunda vi nahi. (This is what my fight is about. There is nothing for the common man here),” he laments and goes back to get ready for campaign as the delegation leaves after thanking him.
After some time, he is back calling out “Modi…..Modi” and a migrant rushes in. “Modi ji inko chai pilayiye,” he asks him to make tea for The Indian Express team. “Yeh hamare Modi ji hain. Chaiwale,” he says mocking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his signature style, donning a serious expression, as everybody else in the room breaks into a laughter.
His party may have suffered a setback with its unit getting splintered, its MLAs defecting, but Mann is unfazed, unchanged.
His satire has stayed but he has sobered down after his vow to shun drinking, “Good that we did not form the government in Punjab. The other parties would have ensured defection of our MLAs. Now, we are seasoned. We will give the tickets to only those who deserve these,” he says.
“The earthquake in Punjab politics started from Sangrur in 2014. It will restart from here once again and will be much more in magnitude in 2022. Nobody will be able to do anything,” he says while his SUV reaches the outskirts of Ramgarh Jwanda village, and he finds several youths on bikes waiting.
They gesture at him to come out. He gets off the SUV and hops on the pillion seat of a bike, waving, as the villagers watch him with curiosity. As he reaches the common meeting point of the village, he grabs the mike and declares that the electoral battle in Sangrur is a battle between haves and have-nots, “Tussi kade kilo sona dekhya (have you seen a kilogram of gold)?” he asks those gathered only to get a “No” as answer. He continues in the same breath, “Nannhi Chhan kol 23 kilo hai. Tuhade bathal vich 23 kilo goha nahi hunda (Nannhi Chhan (refers to Harsimrat Badal’s NGO) has 23 kg. Does your shed have this much cow-dung?”
And he goes on, “Kewal Dhillon (Congress candidate from Sangrur) has watches worth Rs 16 lakh, he says as the audience listens to him seriously. “Time pher vi maada chal reha (It is still not good times for him ),” he says as people guffaw.
He lists the failure of the successive governments from not having given educational institutes, employment to youth, healthcare. “Eh saare ameer hunde gaye ate saade chulleyan vich agg vi nahi hai.” He seeks a repeat for himself as he tells people how he gets Sushma Swaraj to get Punjabi youths back from offshores, how he got Lok Sabha to pay tributes to Chotte Sahibzade of Guru Gobind Singh and how he takes on Modi. “You see me on your phones while I am in Parliament. “
After his address is the selfie time with youth and children getting clicked with him and it is time for the other village.
“Punjab ajj udas hai. Aina udaas kade ni dekhya. 25-25 saalan de mundeyan diyan daarian chittiyan ho gayian. Par veero, udaas na hovo. Ehna pipplan thalle giddhe bhangre painge, (Punjab is sad today. I have never seen it so sad. Beards of youth of age 25 have greyed. But brothers, do not be sad. We will dance under these trees soon),” he appeals to the electorate, disenchanted with the system and sells them hope at Chatha Nanhera village.
Addressing 20-30 villages in a day and taking out road shows through them, Mann says, “I have done my bit. An MP gets Rs five crore every year as MPLAD. It is not a big amount. Still I have kept a record of the money. Each paisa is accounted for. I have helped in water drainage system, village roads, libraries and whatever projects panchayats came to me for. I am telling people, if elected, I will get Rs 25 crore every year from now. It will help.”
It is not just rallies and road shows, Mann douses fires in the fields, bandages those injured, touches feet of the elderly and hugs children and makes sure the videos are on his facebook. He, along with his volunteers, doused fires in Lehra Gaga during campaign. He was seen scaling a wall of a house on fire to get occupants out.
For someone like Soma (30), Gurjant Singh (70), Mann’s speech is a must-listen. “We came running from the fields when we heard he is coming. He should win. At least there is someone who takes on the Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha,” says Soma, with his feet and hands smeared with fertiliser.
Mother campaigns for Mann
Also campaigning for Mann is his 65-year-old mother, Harpal Kaur, who moves from village-to-village seeking votes for for him. Not only a campaigner, Kaur is also her son’s ear to the ground.
“I go to my daughter in Patiala by bus. I take auto-rickshaw to travel in Sunam. I keep listening to what people say. And I give all the feedback to Bhagwant. People love him but politicians of other parties cannot stand his popularity,” she tells The Indian Express.
As she moves from one house to another for campaigning, she says: “Kudiye dhyan rakhna mere munde da (Girl, please take care of my son).” The woman responds: “Eh vi koi kehan di gall hai bibi ji.”
On braving the heat to seek votes for her son, the 65-year-old says who lives in Mann’s native Satauj village, says, “Who will help him if I do not? I am active and healthy. I can go.”
As she talks about the AAP split, she does not miss the opportunity to hit out at Sukhpal Khaira, who floated his own party. “He would beg of Bhagwant to address rallies in his area. He would chase him everywhere. It was Bhagwant’s hard work that AAP became an accepted party in the state. But those people turned out to be no different.”
Harpal Kaur had campaigned for Mann in 2017 Assembly election when he was defeated by former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal in Jalalabad.
“I stayed there for a month. He did not do that bad. You know what Congress did to help Sukhbir Badal and defeat Bhagwant,” she says.