As the Aam Aadmi Party celebrates an unprecedented victory in Punjab, all eyes are on Bhagwant Mann – the Chief Minister-designate. The 48-year-old comedian-turned politician has had an eventful journey. From a failed bid at power against a Congress stalwart in 2012 to winning a Lok Sabha seat with a margin of over two lakh votes against another heavyweight, to eventually being in touching distance of the top job in his home state, Mr Mann has braved a lot of criticism and uncertainty. All of this in less than a decade.
He was accused of being drunk in public, including in the parliament. Opposition parties repeatedly slammed him for allegedly being an alcoholic and suggested he was unfit for office. The AAP leader has always maintained that the drinking charge was the opposition’s ploy to defame him by portraying him as a “drunkard”.
However, he has been seen in videos clips visibly drunk and stumbling at a public event. His own party colleague Harinder Singh Khalsa had in 2016 complained against him to the Lok Sabha Speaker, seeking a change in his seat. He alleged that Mr Mann, who sat next to him, reeked of liquor.
At a 2019 rally in Barnala, in the presence of Kejriwal and his mother, Mr Mann vowed to give up liquor.
“I have countered this. The public has also given its response,” he had said a while back, referring to his re-election as an MP. The people appear to have spoken once again.
He has been a crowd-puller and skilled at grabbing headlines, and he has put it to good use after getting the top job. In his first public appearance after AAP’s thundering victory, Mr Mann announced that his oath-taking ceremony will not be held at Raj Bhawan, as is the custom, but Khatkarkalan in Nawanshahr district, the ancestral village of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. He also announced that government offices will not have the photo of the Chief Minister.
He contested polls this time from Dhuri, an assembly segment in his Sangrur parliamentary constituency, winning by a margin of over 58,000. This was his third battle for an assembly seat. He unsuccessfully contested the 2017 assembly polls against Akali Dal’s Sukhbir Singh Badal for the Jalalabad seat.
Before his legislative assembly debut this time, AAP’s most recognisable face in the state has been elected twice as a Member of Parliament from Sangrur and is the party’s lone MP.
After what seemed like a deliberate strategy of not declaring the Chief Minister candidate, AAP named him just weeks ahead of polling after a phone-in poll, called “Janta Chunegi Apna CM” (people will pick their own CM).
At his press conference when he was picked as the AAP man for the top post, he admitted that earlier people laughed when they saw his face.
“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 say save us,” he had said, harping on what the AAP felt has gone wrong with the state.
Born in Sangrur’s Satoj village in October 1973, Mr Mann enrolled for a B Com degree from Shaheed Udham Singh Government College in Sunam in the same district. However, he didn’t complete the course.
He went on to release comedy videos and music albums, and perform in Punjabi movies, including ’22g Tusi Ghaint Ho’ and ‘Police in Pollywood’.
Appearing The Great Indian Laughter Challenge was a high point in his career as an entertainer. Navjot Singh Sidhu, who now heads the Congress in Punjab, also happened to have made several appearances on the popular TV show.
The Chief Minister-designate’s political career began in 2011 when he joined the Manpreet Singh Badal-led People’s Party of Punjab, an offshoot of the Shiromani Akali Dal. The PPP was to merge later with Congress.
Next year, Mr Mann fought from the Lehra assembly constituency in Sangrur as a PPP candidate but lost to senior Congress leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.
In 2014, Mr Mann joined the AAP and contested against Akali heavyweight Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa for the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat. He won by over two lakh votes and the AAP itself went on to win four Lok Sabha seats in Punjab.
Mr Mann was made AAP’s state unit president after his party won 20 seats in the 2017 elections.
He resigned from the post in 2018 after Arvind Kejriwal apologised to Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia in a defamation case but was back in the AAP fold soon.
Mr Mann won the Sangrur seat again in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with a margin of over one lakh votes.