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