Against an erstwhile Maharaja and career politicians, who were all trounced on the hustings this time round, Punjab has picked a former stand-up comedian, who publicly swore not to touch alcohol for the Chief Minister’s post. Forty-nine-year old Bhagwant Mann is an eccentric choice for a State that was straining for change from the Congress-Akali Dal musical chairs that has dominated politics for the last several decades.

“Chitte bagle nille mor (reference to the khadi-white clad Congressmen and the blue-attired Akalis), ae bhi chor o bhi chor (they are all thieves),” went the popular slogan that resonated seamlessly with the hymns, couplets and spontaneous songs that their new Chief Minister-elect has a habit of bursting into. Mann is an extremely popular stage and TV artist who comes from a modest family background in Satoj village, Sangrur. His popularity on local TV channels and stage shows led him towards politics.

Mann joined the People’s Party of Punjab, led by Manpreet Singh Badal, before he gravitated towards Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement and subsequently to the Aam Aadmi Party. Mann has scored two impressive wins from the Sangrur Parliamentary constituency, and is among the most eloquent speakers in the Opposition benches in the Lok Sabha.

Infact, so colourful and stinging are his utterances in Parliament that he even goaded Prime Minister Narendra Modi into retorting to one of his particularly heckling speech. “Some people believe in Charvak Darshan. Yavat jivet sukham jivet, rinam kritva ghritam pivet. Make merry, have fun, and if you were a believer in ancient tradition, advocate consuming ghee. In Bhagwant Mann, he would advocate consuming something else,” said the PM, to loud jibes and laughter in the Lok Sabha. Such quips have followed a formal complaint in 2016 by suspended AAP MP Harinder Singh Khalsa to the then Lok Sabha Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan, requesting her to change his seat in Parliament as Mann, who sat next to him, was “stinking of alcohol”.

But Mann has apparently turned a weakness into his strength. On January 20, 2019, at a public rally in Barnala, Mann said: “Some people call me an alcoholic. They mock at me. I am now swearing before all of you, on my mother, that I will not touch alcohol.” With his beaming mother Harpal Kaur standing next to him, Mann vowed to not drink.

Punjab, which has been struggling with drugs and alcohol addiction issues among its younger population, has apparently forgiven Mann.