JALANDHAR: I have known Bhagwant Mann for about two decades and a half. I mean only through his albums, CDs and comedy shows which had clearly established long ago that for Mann, comedy is a very serious business and an effective means to point out the ills afflicting the society and the system which he would convey in the language of the masses so as to touch the heartstrings of the people.
He used to take recourse to symbols, images and metaphors to bring home his point which, more often than not, used to be very valid. I was literally bowled over by Mann’s comedy album ‘Kulfi Garma Garam' with the launch of which he seemed to have declared that he had arrived on the comedy scene of the state- nay, the country with a bang.
I vividly remember how he sarcastically commented on the follies and foibles of the social order of the day which continue to plague our society even today. What needs a special mention is the way he laid bare the (non)-working of government departments through the images of various categories of snakes; and how the officials harass the people and force them to pay through their nose even for getting genuine, routine services.
It was evident that Bhagwant had that spark inside him that impelled him to identify the ills plaguing the society and the state; mind it, he was just a chap of 19 years when he announced his 'arrival' in style with the launch of the album 'Kulfi Garma Garam'; this is the age when most of the youngsters are totally oblivious of the realities of life and are just struggling to complete their graduation.
To diagnose an affliction correctly is the first step towards its treatment and this is what Mann did with aplomb; the spark within him made him restless and he must have literally burnt the midnight oil in observing and analyzing the persons and happenings in the world around him and then making competent commentary upon what he observed.
A sharp sense of observation is the first prerequisite of a successful crusader and reformer as also of a leader or a writer; Mann had been endowed with this gift since his childhood. The urge and the ability to observe and point out the ills of the system are a pointer towards the zeal for bringing about reform and change in the status quoits Society. Mann had this zeal ingrained in him but ultimately he realised that simply pointing out the infirmities of the system was not enough as people listened attentively to what he said, agreed with him, appreciated him, but that was all.
Nobody was ready to take up the cudgels to bring about the much needed change. So the spark inside him grew into a raging fire and Bhagwant took a big, bold decision to take the political plunge; he had realised that he himself would have to pick up the gauntlet if he actually wanted that the change visualised by him should actually materialise. He had a clean soul as well as unblemished image not corrupted by materialistic greed of traditional politicians; hence People's Party of Punjab was his natural choice.
The party had been floated by Manpreet Badal who too had a relatively clean image and Mann became one of the founders of the new outfit. However, the nascent outfit soon plunged into turmoil as its leaders were poached and also persecuted with the result that it was soon in disarray; it failed to open its account in the 2012 Assembly elections and the only ‘contribution' it made was to ensure the victory of the Akali Dal for the second time in a row.
In the meantime, as an offshoot of Anna Hazare's movement 'India Against Corruption', Aam Admi Party appeared on the political horizon of the country and held high hopes for countless Indians who had surrendered themselves to their destiny after concluding that no outfit will ever dare to clear the Aegean stables in India.
People's despondency had touched a nadir when AAP appeared on the scene and “it came, it saw, it conquered!” The people of Delhi reposed their faith in the party not once but twice within a short span of less than two years. That was enough to convince Mann that here was the party of his dreams- the party synonymous with change he had been contemplating for long.
It was but natural for him to join the Aam Admi Party especially after PPP lost its way and the air was thick with rumours of the latter hobnobbing with the same old parties for a decent way out. So Bhagwant Mann took the sensible decision and became the face of AAP in Punjab; people like him who are not corrupt have the moral courage to challenge the wrong-doers, howsoever highly placed they may be, and this is what Bhagwant Mann did with utmost panache.
He pointed out the failures of the established leaders of traditional political parties in his inimitable rustic style using local idiom and people just lapped him up-this time in the role of a politician who was out to change the face of the state of Punjab. The results of Parliamentary elections in 2014 upset the applecart of all parties as AAP had made a dramatic entry onto the national political stage; four of its candidates were elected as MPs from Punjab and in as many cases, the margin of defeat was just negligible.
Bhagwant Mann trounced Akali stalwart Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa-who is often accused of ruining the Akali Dal in Akali bastion of Sangrur- by a record margin of four lakh votes. The traditional parties were horrified as the writing on the wall was clear: the people had taken a fancy to the nascent AAP which was a harbinger of hope and change.
The party started gaining popularity with Mann making a very valuable contribution in its expansion and acceptance in every nook and corner of the state. During the Lok Sabha elections, his colleague artistes and singers had not supported Mann for reasons best known to them; so after the declaration of the results, Mann decided to give vent to his anguish at the rough treatment meted out to him by fellow artistes.
This he did through a song ‘geetaan vich marde ne vadde lalkaare par ...di ghurki ton dari jande ne' the rendition of the song created waves and I once again concluded that Mann is a creative genius. Bhagwant also impressed political observers with his performance in the Lok Sabha where he actively took part in the proceedings and availed every available opportunity to attack the government using the most potent weapon at his command- satire coupled with wit.
His poem ‘achhe din kab aane vaale hain' was lapped up by MPs and public alike but his performance was never appreciated in the Lok Sabha as leaders of other parties were quite wary-read scared-of the rookie party Mann belonged to.
In fact the traditional parties saw a grave existential threat in the emergence of the Aam Admi Party and especially its most visible manifestation i.e. Bhagwant Mann; they seemed to have reached a tacit understanding to bury the hatchet among themselves and to go hammer and tongs after both AAP as well as Mann, its most visible face.
This led to an orchestrated campaign to malign Mann and paint him as a drunkard and an irresponsible leader who cannot “lead the state”-a charge that is not only ridiculous but also the one that the man in the street is not ready to believe.
Finding it difficult to point out or even invent some serious charge against Mann, the common refrain among other parties' leaders is that Mann is a sot and that a comedian or an actor can't run the affairs of the state which is a serious business. Such leaders can only be pitied and sympathised with as they conveniently overlook the fact that comedy is as serious a business as running the government because only a comedian like Mann can identify himself with the real problems of the common man and pinpoint the afflictions which need to be cured.
And such a person alone can have the guts and the courage to take upon himself the herculean task of reforming the ailing system. No leader can question Mann's impeccable integrity as he is not corruptible like many others. He has earned a lot of wealth and goodwill through sheer hard work and tenacity and hence won't covet others people's wealth or businesses or property. Since he has a different frame of mind, he is expected to play a significant role in rooting out the corrupt practices prevalent in the system today where might is literally right.
As regards the unfounded and motivated charge that “actors and comedians can't be good leaders,” I shall be dealing with this subject separately in a full-fledged write-up; hence I won't dwell upon it here. However, I will in all humility like to suggest that the sceptics should have a look at the world around them to find out how actors have proved to be highly successful politicians.
Here I shall name only one actor-turned-politician NT Rama Rao who was associated with the Telugu film industry for four decades as a highly successful actor before he appeared on the political firmament of Andhra Pardeep like a rising star and founded Telugu Desam Party which catapulted him to the chief minister's chair of the state.
As regards the charge of excessive drinking against Mann, it can be safely presumed-rather assertedthat he has never created any unsavoury situation which could be the cause of serious concern. It is purely a private affair as to what and how one eats or drinks.
The energy and oomph displayed by Bhagwant falsify the charges against him because almost every day he is up and doing and addressing upto half a dozen well-attended rallies where people eagerly wait for him to address them. And, mind it, unlike traditional politicians, his speeches are not made of the usual run-of-themill stuff which promise moon to the electorate.
Mann is a son of the soil, deeply rooted to the ground and hence his speeches are a world apart as they deal with reality and the real issues confronting the people; he pokes fun at established practices and ‘chalta hai' attitude prevalent everywhere especially in Punjab. The way he brings home his point is just mesmerising; people sit glued to their seats when Mann is parodying the various concepts and lampooning the outdated leaders. In him, the oft-cheated people see the hope: the hope that this man can not only bring the change but can himself be the change.
They seem to believe him as there is no double speak, no guile or intrigue in what he says. People of the state at large don't seem to believe the humbug and the venom being spewed against him by vested interests. They want to see him in a new and important role which would enable him to ameliorate the lot of the masses who have been waiting in perpetuity for the golden days which almost every leader promises to bring but then conveniently forgets. People now are desperate and exasperated; they seem to be proclaiming from house tops: 'buck up Bhagwant Mann, we are waiting for you!"