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From ‘Jugnu’ to AAP’s CM face in Punjab, ex-comedian Bhagwant Mann is no stranger to big stage

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal declared Mann — the party’s sole Lok Sabha MP & Punjab convenor — AAP’s CM candidate for upcoming state polls Tuesday in long-awaited announcement.

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Chandigarh: Not long ago, he made people laugh — and then they came to him crying and begging for aid. Now, Bhagwant Mann hopes to make them smile once more as Punjab’s chief minister if the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) comes to power in the upcoming state assembly polls. 

AAP convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced in Mohali Tuesday afternoon that the 48-year-old Mann — the AAP’s sole Lok Sabha MP and convener for Punjab — would be the party’s candidate for chief minister. 

The party had last week launched a five-day mobile phone survey asking who its CM face should be. Declaring the results today, AAP said 93 per cent of the more than 21 lakh responses it had received were in favour of Mann. Interestingly, more than 3 per cent of the votes were in favour of state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, said Kejriwal. 

The auditorium reverberated with loud cheers and sloganeering for Mann when his name was announced. 

Mann is a comedian-turned-politician who entered politics in 2011 and has been with AAP since the 2014 general elections, when he became one of the party’s four MPs from Punjab.

He was hugely popular as a comedian-actor, with his on-screen character, Jugnu, being a household name in Punjab.

“When I started off as a comedian, people would look at me, hear me and laugh — but now when they look at me, they start crying, begging me to help them to help Punjab,” said the two-time MP from Sangrur.

“The green pen that’s used in government files will work only for the people of Punjab, for the poor, the unemployed, and the downtrodden, and never for personal friends and relatives,” he said, outlining his vision for a future in which he is CM.

Quoting from a poem by Punjab’s renowned poet Surjit Patar, Mann said, “kee hoya jo patjhad aayi…tu agli rut vich yakeen rakhin…main lab ke lyaanda kithon kalman…tu phulan jogi zameen rakhin…“. 

(So what if all the leaves have been shed…keep faith that there will soon be a new beginning…I’ll go find some fresh saplings…you just keep the soil ready…)

Mann’s home constituency, Sangrur, is part of Punjab’s Malwa region, where AAP has had the strongest hold since it entered the state’s political scene in 2014.

The long-awaited declaration of Mann, a Jatt Sikh, as CM candidate comes a few weeks before Punjab goes to the polls on 20 February. It’s a change from the last election in 2017, when AAP didn’t announce a CM face and the Congress went on to win a majority under the leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh. 

“This (timing of the announcement) has been strategically done to ensure that opponents do not have much time to attack Mann. Second, the AAP campaign has virtually peaked in the state, and announcing a CM candidate can only take it higher, not lower,” a senior AAP leader who didn’t wish to be named told ThePrint.


Also read: Ravidas Jayanti & the Dalit vote — why Punjab parties got EC to shift polling date by 6 days


Political career

Mann has been one of AAP’s consistent faces in Punjab since 2014, and has been the party’s state chief for almost five years.

His first foray into electoral politics was with the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP), launched by former Akali leader Manpreet Singh Badal in 2011. Manpreet had left the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) following differences with his paternal uncle and then-CM Parkash Singh Badal.

Mann contested from the Lehra seat as a PPP candidate in the 2012 state assembly election but was defeated. He parted ways with Manpreet in 2014, with Mann joining AAP and Manpreet the Congress.

In the 2014 general elections, Mann, now an AAP candidate, received an overwhelming response from the electorate and won with a margin of over 2.11 lakh votes — one of the highest ever in the state. He defeated Congress candidate Vijay Inder Singla, now a cabinet minister.

Although AAP was among the hot favourites to win the 2017 assembly elections, it didn’t declare a chief ministerial candidate. Many including Mann have argued that this was one of several mistakes the party made in the run-up to the elections, which left it with just 20 MLAs in the assembly. Mann himself lost from the tough seat of Jalalabad, an Akali pocket borough where he contested against former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.

Mann was appointed AAP’s Punjab convener in May 2017, after the elections. He briefly resigned from his post in March 2018 to protest Kejriwal’s decision to apologise to Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia in a defamation case. Majithia had filed the case after Kejriwal levelled allegations of drug trading against him. Mann took up the post again in January 2019.

Mann’s seat was the only one that AAP won in the 2019 general elections, making him the party’s sole MP in the Lok Sabha.

Bhagwant Mann (2nd from left) with Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and other AAP leaders in Mohali on 18 January| By special arrangement
Bhagwant Mann (2nd from left) with Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and other AAP leaders in Mohali on 18 January | By special arrangement

Also read: Congress banks on ministers, sitting MLAs in first list for Punjab polls


Crowd-puller but controversial 

Mann’s political entry has been as controversial as it has been colourful. Considered one of Punjab’s most popular politicians, his rallies and public gatherings draw huge crowds, and he has the ability to turn political speeches into popular stage performances.

Over the years, he has highlighted the cause of NRI Punjabis and raised several issues pertaining to Punjab in Parliament.

However, his personal conduct has been the subject of some controversy. His opponents have accused him of being an alcoholic, and spread videos of him allegedly under the influence of alcohol. In order to counter this image ahead of the 2019 general elections, Kejriwal publicly announced that Mann had sworn to give up alcohol

Mann was also in trouble in 2016 for making a live video of himself entering Parliament from his official car. An inquiry by a parliamentary committee found him guilty of causing a security breach.

Mann has also been widely criticised for not being able to keep AAP’s flock together in Punjab since 2014. The other three MPs who were elected from the state in 2014 have since left the party. The party’s former state chief, Sucha Singh Chhotepur, was also unceremoniously removed ahead of the 2017 assembly elections. 

Chhotepur’s successor, comedian-actor Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi, also left the party after he was replaced by Mann in May 2017. Out of the 20 MLAs elected in 2017, AAP has been able to retain only 10, while the rest have defected to other parties.

Popular comedian

Mann was born in a village in Sangrur in 1973. His father was a teacher and his mother is a homemaker. He studied at the Shaheed Udham Singh Government College, Sunam. He began performing on stage while he was at college as a satirical poet and entertainer, and won several inter-college competitions.

He went on to do television shows. His on-screen character, Jugnu — a role he essayed multiple times — was the quintessential villager whose rustic satire on society and politics had everybody in splits.

Mann has also acted in more than a dozen Punjabi films, the last being a 2005 movie titled 2g Tussi Ghaint Ho.

He hit the big time in 2008 when he participated in the Great Indian Laughter Challenge on TV. Interestingly, current Congress state chief Navjot Singh Sidhu was one of the two judges on the show.

Mann, who got divorced in 2015, has two children who live in the US with their mother.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)


Also read: Sidhu says Congress ‘may spring surprise on CM face’, talks of ‘character crisis’ in Punjab


 

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