Ludhiana: The city of Ludhiana in Punjab is flooded with posters of ‘Bade Bains’ and ‘Chhote Bains’ and their election symbol — a letterbox.
The two brothers, Balwinder and Simarjeet Singh Bains, both incumbent MLAs, have been influential figures the city, known for its hosiery industry and bicycle manufacturing, for the last decade, and formed the Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) in 2016. While ‘Bade Bains’ or Balwinder, the MLA from Ludhiana South, is known to keep a low profile, ‘Chhote Bains’ Simarjeet, who is trying to get re-elected for the third successive term from Atam Nagar, is just the opposite.
There is a whole host of charges against him that range from violating Covid protocols to assault and robbery, to criminal intimidation, attempt to murder, and rape. But Simarjeet and his supporters seems unperturbed.
“There are 17 cases against me. Each time there is an election there is a case against me,” Simarjeet Singh tells ThePrint, almost with pride.
“If I have committed a crime, then I should be scared. But I am not scared at all,” he tells ThePrint.
This time, Simarjeet Bains faces a rape charge by a 44-year-old woman from Ludhiana, who has alleged that he raped her 12 times. Her lawyer, Harish Dhanda, is fighting from the same Atam Nagar constituency on an SAD ticket. Simarjeet also faces a case of attempt to murder his childhood friend and now political opponent Kamaljit Karwal, who is contesting from the same seat on a Congress ticket.
‘Goon’ or ‘Robin Hood’?
Simarjeet Bains is either referred to as a “Robin Hood of the masses” by his supporters, or as a “gunda” (goon) by his detractors.
On the ‘Robin Hood’ side of things is the popularity he enjoys in his constituency due to his ‘Suvidha Centre’, where he ensures people get work relating to pension papers, scholarships, wages for labourers, electricity bills and the municipal corporation done without paying bribes.
On the other hand, of the serious charges against the two-time MLA, the most prominent are of rape and attempt to murder. He got protection from arrest from the Supreme Court earlier this month in this rape case. He was taken into custody for allegedly attempting to murder his Congress rival last week, being let go soon after.
In November 2020, a woman residing in Bains’ locality filed a complaint against the sitting MLA for raping her 12 times. Speaking to ThePrint, the woman said she had approached Simarjeet over a property matter in early 2020 as her husband had passed away in 2018, and some bank officials were troubling her over sale of the property.
“He took advantage of my situation and raped me 12 times. Thrice at his neighbour’s house and then repeatedly at his office,” she alleged.
She has been on a dharna for more than a year, sitting from 9 am to 3 pm daily outside the Ludhiana Police Commissioner’s office, with placards calling Simarjeet a rapist.
The woman alleged that it took her nearly a year to get an FIR registered against the Atam Nagar MLA and even after it was filed (in August 2021), “attempts were made to have the case dismissed”.
She added that she was being “threatened and harassed as false cases were being registered” against not only her, but also her father and son, in different states.
The woman and her lawyer Harish Dhanda have also alleged that Simarjeet is being shielded by the Punjab Police because of his long-time friendship with cabinet minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu and CM Charanjit Singh Channi.
Simarjeet and his supporters don’t shy away from questions on the rape case or accusations of murder and vandalism. Simarjeet vows that his job is to work for the public, even if it means helping those who voted against him.
But he is quick to warn: “The one thing I will not tolerate is gundagardi (hooliganism). We are descendants of Bhagat Singh. We respect (Mahatma) Gandhi but our mindset is of Bhagat Singh. Hum eent ka jawab patthar se denge (we believe in tit for tat).”
Calling Simarjeet a “cancer of society which needs to be surgically removed”, lawyer and SAD candidate Dhanda alleges that he was being harassed for helping the rape complainant and slurs and abuses were being thrown at him.
“Bains has built an empire by stealing electricity. They pose as Robin Hoods but they are goons who use the Suvidha Centre to make false ID cards and get bogus votes,” Dhanda alleges.
‘Naram & garam’ by turns
A municipal corporator, Simarjeet joined politics when he was only 24 years old, in 1994. He stood as an Independent candidate, and since then, switched between many parties.
He was part of the Shiromani Akali Dal, but quit on an acrimonious note. With his LIP, he allied with the BSP, CPI and even AAP.
The LIP ended the alliance with AAP in 2018 when party chief Arvind Kejriwal apologised to former state minister and SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia over the drug trade allegations.
The LIP had come into being after Simarjeet started a project called Team Insaaf to fight the sand mining mafia and corruption.
“He is naram (soft) with those he needs to be soft with, and garam (hot-headed) with those with whom it’s required,” says Gurpreet Singh Khurana, Simarjeet’s long-time aide and a former LIP councillor.
LIP’s Gurmeet Pal Singh adds that the one piece of advice he got from Simarjeet was to always be honest and hardworking, while another co-founder of the party, Jagjit Singh Sonik, said it was through Simarjeet that he learnt how to work for “aam log” (common people).
“Besides his salary, Bains ji puts Rs 2-3 lakh every month into the Suvidha Centre,” Sonik says.
Many believe that the LIP has been shunned as an ally by the Congress and BJP because of the cases against Simarjeet.
Ready to win
Simarjeet says, with pride, that he was the first to protest against the farmer ordinances that eventually became laws, and which saw a year-long agitation by farmers at Delhi’s borders.
“I did a cycle yatra from the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar to the CM’s residence in Chandigarh to protest against the proposed farm bills,” he says, adding that during the yatra he was charged with violating Covid norms but managed to distribute over 10,000 pamphlets.
“I kept reiterating that corporate houses would seize Punjab’s lands if these laws were passed,” Simarjeet adds.
Now, despite all the charges against him, Simarjeet is confident of a third run as Atam Nagar MLA, and says he will focus on ending the “rule of corruption and loot mafia”. He also believes his party could come to power outright.
“This is not the time to think about post-poll alliances, let the results come first. Who knows, we may not need an alliance at all,” he says.
Inputs by Sukriti Vats
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)