AAP’s Mann of the moment
His folksy style and satirical speeches have been a huge hit in rural areas of Punjab, particularly the Malwa region
CHANDIGARH: Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal’s announcement on Tuesday that two-time Member of Parliament (MP) Bhagwant Mann will be the party’s chief ministerial candidate in Punjab has not come as a surprise. Mann, 48, who is also the AAP’s state president, is easily among the party’s most recognisable faces in the state, where polls are scheduled next month. AAP said his selection followed a phone-based survey in which 93.3% of the 2.1 million-plus respondents favoured him.
Mann, who has faced several controversies, is known as a crowd puller for his party for which he has been leading the campaign since its electoral debut in the state. His folksy style and satirical speeches have been a huge hit in rural areas of Punjab, particularly the Malwa region, which sends 69 of the 117 lawmakers to the assembly.
Mann’s tryst with politics
Mann, a college drop-out, is a comedian-turned-politician. He started his political career in 2011 by joining Manpreet Singh Badal’s People’s Party of Punjab. Mann contested his first election against former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal from Lehra but came third.
When Badal allied with Congress and later joined it, Mann opted for the AAP. In 2014, Mann won the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat by over 211,000 votes, which was the highest margin in the state.
When the AAP contested its first assembly election in the state in 2017, Mann crisscrossed the state to campaign for the party besides taking on Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal in the latter’s stronghold of Jalalabad. He lost and came second ahead of Congress’s Ravneet Singh Bittu, now MP from Ludhiana. But AAP won 20 seats to become the principal opposition party in Punjab. In the 2019 national polls, when all other AAP candidates in the state lost their security deposits, Mann retained the Sangrur seat by over 100,000 votes. He is the lone AAP MP in Lok Sabha.
Brush with controversies
Mann has been in the news for all wrong reasons after his embarrassing videos surfaced showing him in an inebriated state. In January 2019, he took a public pledge with his mother Harpal Kaur by his side to quit alcohol to avoid any embarrassment to his party. “I have taken a solemn vow to say no to booze for good in my mother’s presence,” he told a gathering in Kejriwal’s presence.
Mann’s rivals have often portrayed him as unfit for public office because of his image. A campaign #Pegwant has been run on social media against him, despite his repeated statements that he has given up alcohol. Mann was also accused of compromising parliamentary security by live-streaming arrangements at the Parliament on social media in 2016, which led to calls for action against him.