He may no longer be a full-time entertainer, but Bhagwant Mann, 48, remains to draw crowds and, now, if the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) latest tele-vote is to be believed, its next most popular local face election of the month.
After proving himself as a politician by winning the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat twice, the Punjab AAP chief was officially inaugurated as the party’s chief ministerial candidate on Tuesday.
Born in October 1973 in the village of Satoj in Sangrur, Mr. Mann signed up for a B.Com degree from the renowned Shaheed Udham Singh Government College in the same district. He did not complete the course but found his calling entertaining.
It started with a comedy video and music album and then starred in Punjabi movies, including 2014’s’Police in Polywood‘And 2015’22G Tusi Ghaint Ho‘
The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, a TV show where Navjot Singh Sidhu – now the head of the rival Congress state unit – also made a name for himself, had a high place in his career as an actor.
Speaking at a press conference in Mohali on Tuesday, Mr Mann, referring to his career in stand-up, said people no longer smile when they see his face.
“Now, it’s the complete opposite. When I go to a public meeting or a meeting, people now go to describe their problems, look at my face and cry and say save us, we are destroyed, our children are bad company …,” he said.
Mr. Mann’s political journey began in 2011 when he joined the People’s Party of Punjab, led by Manpreet Singh Badal. Mr. Badal formed this party after leaving the Shiromani Akali Dal. The PPP later merged with the Congress.
Mr Mann contested from 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 contested against Akali heavyweight Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa for the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat. He won by more than two lakh votes. AAP itself has won four Lok Sabha seats in Punjab.
But three years later, his fate was reflected in his party as Mr. Mann lost the 2017 assembly election by contesting for the Jalalabad seat against Sukhbir Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal.
Arvind Kejriwal’s party won just 20 seats in the 117-member Punjab Assembly, though it ended up as the favorite opposition party in the state, a favorite of many pundits. Mr. Mann was made head of its state unit.
He resigned in 2018 after apologizing to Akali leader Vikram Singh Majithia in the Arvind Kejriwal defamation case but returned to work the following year.
Mr Mann again won the Sangrur seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections by a margin of over one lakh votes.
During his political career, Mr. Mann has been accused of having “drinking problems.”
In 2016, the then AAP MP Harinder Singh Khalsa lodged a complaint against him with the Lok Sabha Speaker, seeking a change of his seat. He complained that the man sitting next to him was drinking standard wine.
At a 2019 rally in Barnala, in the presence of Mr Kejriwal and his mother, Mr Mann promised to give up alcohol. Mr Mann then accused his political rivals of defaming him by portraying him as a “born drunk”.
The allegations surfaced again in an interview with NDTV on Tuesday.
“I retaliated. The people also reacted,” he said, referring to his re-election from Sangrur. Opposition groups called for a halt to the protests, saying “there is nothing wrong with that.”
(With input from PTI)