By Vishal Gulati
Chandigarh, Jan 18 (IANS): The politician whose resolve to give up drinking was applauded by AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal is now the party's chief ministerial face for the Congress-ruled 117-member legislative Assembly of Punjab that will go to the polls on February 20.
Two-time Sangrur Member of Parliament Bhagwant Mann, 48, his name was cleared by Kejriwal after receiving over 21 lakh responses from the people, with 93 per cent of them favouring his name.
Who is AAP's Punjab CM candidate Mann?
Mann, who joined AAP in 2014 and won the Sangrur parliamentary seat by 211,721 votes, took over the reins of the party unit in 2019. This is Mann's second stint as president of the state unit.
Mann had resigned from the same post in March 2018 after AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tendered an unconditional apology to Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia without consulting the AAP Punjab unit leaders.
Kejriwal and other AAP leaders, in the run-up to the February 2017 assembly elections in Punjab had been alleging that Majithia was a "drug lord" and was patronising the rampant drug trade in the state.
Formerly a popular comedian-actor, Mann, known for his trademark 'basanti' turban, a colour associated with Shaheed Bhagat Singh, has had his fair share of controversies in recent years, especially linked to his drinking habit.
Mann, who retained his parliamentary seat in 2019 by 111,111 votes, had in the presence of Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia publicly announced at a rally in 2019 that he had given up drinking completely.
Mann, otherwise, is a popular celebrity in Punjab, especially in the rural areas. He had contested against Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal from the Jalalabad assembly seat in 2017 assembly polls but lost.
Currently, AAP has won only one of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab. In its maiden foray in the 2014 Lok Sabha battle, it won four seats in the state.
Barring Mann, all other candidates of the party forfeited their security deposits in 2019. Its vote share in the state nosedived from 23.9 to 7.4 per cent.
In last assembly polls in 2017, AAP won 20 of 117 Assembly seats and became the main opposition in the state, relegating the Akali Dal to the third place in the Assembly.
Of the 20 AAP legislators in the outgoing Assembly, 10 have defected till date.
The reason: most of its prominent leaders had been either suspended for anti-party activities or have joined other political parties, mainly the Congress.
"Now on the basis of public opinion, we have arrived on a decision to nominate Bhagwant Mann as our chief ministerial candidate. The aim of the exercise to get the feedback was to make state unit more accountable and transparent," a senior AAP leader told IANS regarding Mann's appointment.
"Bhagwant Mann in his capacity would now be responsible to lead the party to the grassroots and to victory too," he said, adding he would launch a fresh offensive against the Congress government on its false promises in the fag-end of its tenure.
Also, the leader admitted in the 2017 Punjab assembly elections the party committed a blunder by going into the polls without declaring a chief ministerial candidate.
Thanking everyone for nominating him as the chief ministerial candidate, Mann said now he has a dual responsibility on his shoulders as he has been named not only by the party but also by the people.
Mann, who often says he is born at a place called Sunam in Sangrur and those born there are called 'sunami'. "So, If Modi is a wave, I am a (t)sunami," he remarked in his inimitable style in the Lok Sabha in 2019 with members thumping their desks in appreciation.
In his parliamentary speeches, Mann is often heard saying, "Please don't ring the bell, Sir, I get disturbed", with peels of laughter by the lawmakers.
With the clearance of Mann's name for the chief ministerial post, AAP is trying to save its sinking ship in the state that managed 23.9 per cent of the votes, while the SAD-BJP alliance had garnered more votes at 30.5 per cent.