He may not be a full-time entertainer anymore but Bhagwant Mann, 48, remains a crowd-puller and, now, if the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) latest tele-vote is to be believed, its most bankable local face ahead of next month’s elections.
Having proven himself as a politician by winning twice from Sangrur Lok Sabha seat, the Punjab AAP chief was on Tuesday officially anointed party’s Chief Ministerial candidate with 93 per cent of those who called or sent messages to a party number choosing him.
Born in Sangrur’s Satoj village in October 1973, Mr Mann signed up for a B.Com degree from the Shaheed Udham Singh government college in Sunam in the same district. He didn’t complete the course but found his calling to be in entertainment.
It started with comedy videos and music albums and then stints in Punjabi movies, including 2014’s ‘Police in Pollywood‘ and 2015’s ‘22G Tusi Ghaint Ho‘.
The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, a TV show on which Navjot Singh Sidhu – now the state unit chief of the rival Congress – also made a name for himself, was a high point in his career as a performer.
At Tuesday’s press conference in Mohali, Mr Mann referenced his career in stand-up said people don’t laugh when they see his face anymore.
“Now, it is completely reverse. When I go to any public meeting or any meeting, people now cry when they look at my face while narrating their problems and saying save us, we are ruined, our children are in bad company…,” he said.
Mr Mann’s political journey began when he joined the Manpreet Singh Badal-led People’s Party of Punjab in 2011. Mr Badal had floated the outfit after leaving the Shiromani Akali Dal. Later, the PPP merged with the Congress.
Mr Mann fought from the Lehra assembly constituency in Sangrur as a PPP candidate in 2012 and lost to senior Congress leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.
In 2014, Mr Mann joined the AAP and was pitted against Akali heavyweight Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa for the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat. He won by over 2 lakh votes. The AAP itself went on to win four Lok Sabha seats in Punjab.
But three years later, his fortunes mirrored that of his party’s as Mr Mann lost the 2017 assembly polls after running against Shiromani Akali Dal’s Sukhbir Singh Badal for the Jalalabad seat.
Arvind Kejriwal’s party won just 20 seats in the 117-member Punjab Assembly despite being the favourites for many pundits, ending up as the state’s main opposition party. Mr Mann was made its state unit chief.
He resigned from the post in 2018 after Arvind Kejriwal apologised to Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia in a defamation case but was back on the job the next year.
Mr Mann won the Sangrur seat again in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with a margin of over one lakh votes.
During his political career, Mr Mann has been hounded by accusations that he has a “drinking problem”.
In 2016, the then AAP MP Harinder Singh Khalsa complained against him to the Lok Sabha Speaker, seeking a change in his seat. He alleged that Mann, who sat next to him, reeked of liquor.
At a 2019 rally in Barnala, in the presence of Mr Kejriwal and his mother, Mr Mann vowed to give up liquor. Mr Mann had then accused his political rivals’ of defaming him by portraying him as a “born drunkard”.
The charge came up again in an NDTV interview on Tuesday.
“I have countered this. The public has also given its response,” he said, referring to his re-election from Sangrur. The opposition keeps hurling this baseless charge as it doesn’t have anything else to say against him, Mr Mann said.
(With inputs from PTI)