New Delhi: In Punjab, the AAP’s Bhagwant Mann is now pitted against the Congress’ Charanjit Singh Channi, the incumbent chief minister. While the battle for Punjab is expected to be mainly between the Congress and the AAP, the BJP and its allies are patiently waiting for a fractured mandate. The BJP is also planning to target Mr Channi for corruption as the Enforcement Directorate conducted raids on the premises of the CM’s relatives across Punjab over illegal sand mining cases this week. Punjab will be going to the polls on February 20.
On Tuesday, following a statewide mega telephonic survey, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal declared Bhagwant Mann as the party’s chief ministerial candidate. On the other hand, amidst fierce infighting, the Congress has unofficially projected Charanjit Singh Channi as its leader by tweeting a 36-second video by actor-philanthropist Sonu Sood backing him as the “real chief minister”. The Congress high command continued to fight shy of taking an official stand due to factionalism in the party, particularly between Punjab PCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and the chief minister.
Incidentally, a few days back, both wanted the high command to project a CM face. All eyes will now be on the mercurial Mr Sidhu, who has been coveting the top post. By hinting at Mr Channi, the Congress is openly playing the dalit card. While Punjab has nearly 33 per cent Scheduled Castes, the Jat-Sikhs comprise almost 20 per cent.
While Mr Channi’s selection could possibly confine the Congress’ reach to the 33 per cent backwards’ vote bank, Mr Mann -- politician, political satirist, actor and comedian -- could cut across caste and community. Unlike the Congress, the AAP held an elaborate function in Mohali to declare its “dulha” (groom)." As Mr Kejriwal announced his name, Mr Mann broke down. Wiping his tears, he hugged his mentor and “elder brother”, Mr Kejriwal. “I’m a humble servant of the people,” Mr Mann said as he addressed the gathering at Mohali after the announcement. He also said that “it is a huge responsibility” and “I will work with resolve”.
It may be recalled when the Narendra Modi wave wiped away the entire Opposition, one person from a rookie party withstood the bloodbath. It was Bhagwant Mann alias Jugnu from the AAP. In 2019, Mr Mann won for the second time from the Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency. Mr Mann also runs an NGO called “Lok Lehar Foundation”, which works with the children who have developed physical deformities from the pollution of groundwater in border areas of Punjab. The AAP believes Mr Mann’s popularity and charisma could help the party to expand outside Delhi -- a long-cherished dream of AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal.
Regardless of his popularity, Mr Mann has his share of controversies. His alleged alcoholism and videos of his tumbling down from dais have haunted him. Fake pictures of Mr Mann and Mr Kejriwal were circulated by rivals. Mr Mann has claimed to have overcome his battle with the bottle with his “mother’s blessings”. Leading the AAP in the polls in the state, Mr Mann will now be under much stronger public scrutiny.
With Mr Channi as its unofficial face, the Congress would focus mainly on the dalit vote bank. Mr Channi belongs to the second-largest dalit community, the Ravidasa, comprising nearly 20.7 per cent of the dalit population. Statistics indicated that in 2017 the Congress managed to bag nearly 41 per cent of dalit votes. Mr Channi has also started making the rounds of the “deras” in the state. He visited Radha Swami Satsang Bears, which reportedly influences nearly 19 constituencies, Dera Sacha Sauda (27 constituencies) and Dera Noormahal (eight constituencies), among others. Mr Channi is also reported to be a regular visitor at the Ravidas community’s Dera Sachkhand Ballan, which influences nearly eight constituencies.