Wit and con­nect in­tact, Mann toils hard, keep­ing AAP’s hopes alive

His folksy style, jokes and com­edy gigs have been a huge hit, mak­ing con­test with Par­min­der Singh Dhindsa of the SAD and Ke­wal Singh Dhillon of the Congress a grip­ping one

Hindustan Times (Patiala) - - Punjab - Navneet Sharma navneet­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com n

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) state pres­i­dent Bhag­want Mann has the hard task of turn­ing the party around, pep­ping up de­mor­alised sup­port­ers and set­ting its house in order.

The party, which shook the state’s elec­toral equa­tions by win­ning four of the 13 par­lia­men­tary seats on its de­but in the last gen­eral elec­tions, is in tat­ters and mired in in­ter­nal bick­er­ing. A re­peat per­for­mance seems improbable with most of the party can­di­dates fail­ing to match the cam­paign of their ri­vals.

As the party’s hopes rest on him, Mann is go­ing all out, counting on his sav­age po­lit­i­cal wit and peo­ple con­nect, to try and re­tain the seat he won by a record mar­gin the last time, be­sides ven­tur­ing out to other seg­ments oc­ca­sion­ally. He seems to have no rea­son to feel dis­ap­pointed. His folksy style, jokes and com­edy gigs have been a huge hit, mak­ing the con­test with for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Par­min­der Singh Dhindsa of the SAD and Ke­wal Singh Dhillon of the Congress a grip­ping one.

The ri­vals have been hit­ting out at his cam­paign­ing style, but it does not seem to have helped so far, as he car­ries on re­gard­less. In Preet Na­gar, where a 150-strong gath­er­ing has been wait­ing for him one hour or so, Mann quickly gets on with his speech with fo­cus on bet­ter schools and health fa­cil­i­ties. “(AAP leader Arvind) Ke­jri­wal has done this in Delhi where gov­ern­ment schools are not just com­pet­ing with pri­vate schools but do­ing bet­ter than them. We de­serve the same fa­cil­i­ties here,” he says, adding: “Aithe mukaabla ameeran teh za­meeran da hai (The fight here is be­tween the rich and those with con­science).

The AAP leader winds up his speech with an ap­peal for sup­port but not be­fore re­gal­ing them with a joke or two. “Main mahine ek pehle ek pind wich keh baithya main twada bahut dhnayawad karda hain tussi apna keemti samay wich samay kad­hya. Ek buzurg uth ke kehnda putt assi vele hi honde haan aithe hi honde haan. Pher aa jaayen, aithe hi hoange. Main taan keemti ke­han ton hi hatt gaya,” he says to peels of laugh­ter.

The AAP leader then sets for Ghara­cho where a group of youth on bikes and cars is wait­ing for him out­side the vil­lage. He im­me­di­ately gets on top of his SUV which slowly moves, tak­ing 15 min­utes to cover the three-kilo­me­tre dis­tance. Led by three dozen-odd bikes and cars, his ve­hi­cle weaves its way through the nar­row lanes, with Mann wav­ing at ev­ery­one and a cam­paign ve­hi­cle blar­ing out pop­u­lar Pun­jabi song “Tere yaar nu dab­ban nu phirde si, par dabda kithe aa”.

As the con­voy reaches Ghara­cho, slo­gans of “In­quilab Zind­abad” rend the air. Mann is in his el­e­ment and gets on with the job with­out any in­tro­duc­tory speeches.

Call­ing Ghara­cho the cap­i­tal of the Lok Sabha con­stituency, he hits out at his two ri­vals from the word go. “The ma­chine (elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chine) will have pho­tos of all three of us. The Congress can­di­date looks scary whereas Dhindsa’s photo is per­fect for his cur­rent sta­tus as if he is beg­ging peo­ple in the queue to vote for him. Then, you have my photo in which it looks as if I am telling ev­ery­one to come quickly and press the but­ton at num­ber three,” he says, mak­ing faces.

But, he doesn’t stop at it and has the crowd in stitches by adding: “You all unite and vote for teesra badal (third al­ter­na­tive). When the but­ton on the ma­chine (EVM) is pressed, you will hear a loud sound, not from the ma­chine, but shrieks of Dhindsa and Dhillion. Cheekhan kadaa deyo enha di”. Mann is also mak­ing a Pan­thic pitch in his elec­tion meet­ings. Train­ing his guns at the Akalis and the Congress, he ac­cuses the Badals of fail­ure to check sac­ri­lege in­ci­dents and the present gov­ern­ment of not tak­ing ac­tion against them.

“Af­ter I raised the is­sue, the House paid trib­ute to younger sahibzadas of Guru Gobind Singh. Now, the Lok Sabha will pay homage to them on De­cem­ber 27 ev­ery year,” he then says be­fore play­ing a video of pro­ceed­ings of the Lok Sabha.

Ad­dress­ing 18-20 meet­ings a day, Mann the cam­paigner is draw­ing big crowds and keep­ing them in good hu­mour, but how many of them press the but­ton for the third al­ter­na­tive would only be known on May 23, the day the votes will get counted.

AAP CAN­DI­DATE FROM SAN­GRUR SAYS THE FIGHT IS BE­TWEEN THE RICH AND THOSE WITH CON­SCIENCE

HT PHOTO

AAP can­di­date and sit­ting MP Bhag­want Mann ad­dress­ing an elec­tion rally in Ghad­ban vil­lage in San­grur.

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