Punjab Election 2017: AAP's cavalier Bhagwant Mann is the new symbol of anti-Badal ire

In every Bhagwant Mann rally, the joke is always on the Badals. And it always comes with a loud chorus.

Balancing himself atop an SUV — a challenge that makes you pray for a man known also as 'Pegwant Mann' — during a road show in Jalalabad, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader starts with a line that has now become a rage. "Kiklee kaleer di," he says. "Gapp Sukhbir di," the crowd roars back. And it is show time in Jalalabad, in a market falling over itself for a glimpse of the AAP leader.

Aam Aadmi Party's Bhagwant Mann. Image courtesy: CNN-News18

Aam Aadmi Party's Bhagwant Mann. Image courtesy: CNN-News18

Bhagwant: Chitta mere...

Crowd: Mere bhai da..

Bhagwant: Border te...

Crowd: Mangai da    

Bhagwant: Dasso kitta chahi da

Crowd: Ghar-ghar pahunchai da

Bhagwant: Chitta sadda lahu hai

Crowd: Main Badalan di Bahu hai. Main Badalan di Bahu hai...

A loud applause, like the clattering of clouds, breaks out. Some dance, some scream. Others try to shake his hand. Almost everyone takes out a mobile phone to record the moment for posterity. And the caravan moves on, till the next kiklee stop.

Mann's kiklee, a variation of the rhyme young Punjabi girls sing while playing a game where they hold hands and dance in a circle, has become the theme of the AAP's campaign. With devastating humour, it conveys what Punjab is talking about at every corner: The menace of chitta (a synthetic drug called so because of its shiny white colour).

It's amusing to hear a man, who reportedly has a drink problem, talk of nashabandi. Every day, some hilarious anecdote of Mann either stumbling or being so daft as to just blow kisses at rallies for five minutes comes out in the local papers or goes viral on social media. Sometimes he just stares into emptiness with his big, button-type eyes, making you suppress a giggle at his comic face. But such is Mann's craze that people dream of drug-free Punjab every time he raises his fist and chants Inquilab.

Mann has become a veritable hero for the underclass, with his earthy, rustic demeanour and colorful lifestyle. In the minds of the electorate, he is cast in the mould of the Amitabh Bachchan of the 80s — a Coolie, a Mard tangewala...even, well, a Sharabi!

On the streets of Punjab, he is now the underdog taking on the establishment, making the once feared and revered Badals the butt of devastating rhymes. He has become a symbol of the ire of Punjab's Dalits and youth against the status-quo. Mann is no longer a stand-up comic; he has become the messenger of a revolution.

"Apne jaisa banda hai ji, mast hai," says a youth in Jalalabad. In the crowd, an ecstatic supporter claims Mann will win by a huge margin and his rival, deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, will lose his zamanant (deposit). Among the bookies, he is the odds-on favourite to win the biggest battle of the Punjab elections.

You realise Mann has already won the war of rhymes, jokes and laughter, when his rivals pay him the ultimate compliment, that of reciting the kiklee, during Navjot Singh Sidhu's rally in far away Amritsar, albeit without giving him credit.

Mann's rallies and road shows are a rage, like a film that everyone wants to see repeatedly. So, Mann practically eats, drinks (hopefully) and lives just the election. He hits the road soon after dawn and zips around till dusk. In his trademark yellow turban, white kurta-pyjama and sneakers, he performs the same drill hour after hour: Stand atop his vehicle, crack jokes, recite the kiklee, and when the crowd demands, dance to the tune of jhadoo wala aa gaya, jhadoo wala chhaa gaya.

For many, it is cathartic to see Mann on the campaign trail. He soaks up the simmering anger in them, gives voice to their suppressed emotions, and then, with his humour, helps everyone laugh them away. At his rallies, the beaten, battered Punjabis, find a welcome release from the fire that has been raging inside them. Some are angry because of the be-adabi (disrespect) to the Guru Granth Saheb at various places, some are scared of the menace of drugs, and some are just fed up with the status-quo that allowed the Congress and Akali Dal to rule them by turn.

His backyard of Malwa, the region left of the Sutlej, has always been known as the cradle of the anti-establishment hero. It was once a cradle of a strong Leftist movement, producing leaders who fought for the rights of Dalits and peasants. Mann has tapped into both the region's history and hopes.

It is scary to see so much ride on just one man. It is scarier when the man leading a silent revolution is somebody known to be a bit cavalier and daft in public life. When you see Mann trying to balance himself on his SUV, it seems he is just one misstep away from a great fall, taking the hopes of his followers into a bottomless abyss.

For the moment, however, he is doing fine.

It is almost dusk now, and his hands and feet are still steady. And, he is still leading a revolution with just one line: kiklee kaleer di.

Updated Date: Feb 05, 2017 10:51 AM

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