The funny but relentless political campaigner Bhagwant Mann is the Aam Aadmi Party’s chief ministerial candidate in Punjab. “I have been told I will be declared the Chief Ministerial face, just wait till January, it will happen.” This is what Bhagwant Mann told this correspondent in October 2016, six months before the 2017 Punjab election, after an interview at a hotel in Chandigarh.
That was not to be for the Sangrur MP who had shocked one and all by defeating Akali Dal heavyweight Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa by more than 2 lakh votes in 2014 amidst the Narendra Modi wave. AAP went in with no chief ministerial candidate in those elections after opinion polls showed it ahead, and crashed to a defeat, winning just 20 seats.
The AAP backed off from announcing Mann given the controversy over his alcoholism and videos emerging of an inebriated Mann struggling to walk or talk straight at many events. Mann, an MP, still took the plunge in 2017 elections and contested against then deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal from Jalalabad seat but lost out.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had joked about Mann’s vice in the parliament.
Nevertheless, in Punjab elections 2022, the AAP has returned to its ‘default CM face choice’ in Mann, backed by a public referendum with nearly 22 lakh callers, after a futile search for six months did not yield any credible face. The party does not want to repeat its mistake of 2017 of not going with any CM face, which it feels had costed it the election. After the 2017 polls, Mann was appointed AAP’s state president.
Can Mann deliver? He will again face a barrage of ridicule from the Akali Dal and the Congress over his alcoholism, though Mann has always maintained that he is a social drinker and has struck a parallel to say Captain Amarinder Singh also loved his drink. Mann also backs his electoral record of being the only AAP MP who won a seat (Sangrur) in Punjab in 2019 too.
The announcement of Mann as AAP’s CM face could galvanise the party in Malwa region, in which Sangrur falls, and which sends over half of the MLAs to the Punjab Assembly and is key to who forms the government. He has constantly impressed the same upon his party, and went into sulk mode for over a month last year after sensing reluctance to declare him the chief ministerial candidate.
Before being known as a politician, Mann was known as a stand-up comedian who ruled the local movie industry and did numerous shows abroad. The Great Indian Laughter Challenge television show in 2008 further increased his popularity. Akali Dal and Congress had also poked fun at Mann’s comedian background.
Mann but enjoys a large fan following who believe he can pull it off.