Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) leader Simranjit Singh Mann sent shockwaves running down the Aap Aadmi Party leadership in Punjab after it scored a victory in the election to the bypoll to the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat, defeating AAP on its home turf just three months after the latter registered a landslide victory in the assembly elections. Mann won after defeating his closest rival, AAP candidate Gurmail Singh by a margin of 5,822 votes.
Mann, 77, a former IPS officer, secured the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat nearly 23 years after last winning it in 1999. According to reports, Mann, who has been raising Sikh and minority-related issues, was able to make inroads, especially into the rural vote bank in Sangrur parliamentary constituency, which is considered the AAP’s bastion and the home turf of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.
Who is Simranjit Singh Mann?
Dubbed 'Budda Jarnail' by some of his critics, 77-year-old Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president and former IPS officer Simranjit Singh Mann was born in Shimla in 1945 and studied at Bishop Cotton School before completing his graduation from a government college in Chandigarh.
He joined the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1967 and held various posts including superintendent of police (Vigilance), SP (Headquarters), senior superintendent of police (SSP), Ferozepur; SSP Faridkot and group commandant of Central Industrial Security Force.
The leader was elected to the Lok Sabha from Tarn Taran in 1989 and Sangrur in 1999. The SAD (Amritsar) has been trying its luck in the Punjab Assembly polls but in vain. Mann had contested the 2022 Assembly polls from the Amargarh seat and was defeated by the AAP's Jaswant Singh Gajjanmajra by a margin of 6,043 votes. The leader, however, had recently insisted that he may have grown old but couldn't be written off just yet.
Mann has been a proponent of Khalistan and has been raising issues of Sikhs and minorities at different forums.
Every year on June 6, he and his supporters gather inside the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar and raise pro-Khalistan slogans to mark the anniversary of Operation Bluestar. Mann had resigned from the IPS in 1984 following Operation Bluestar, which was carried out by the Indian Army in June 1984 to flush out militants hiding in the Golden Temple complex.
In interviews following his victory, the SAD leader dedicated the win to "the teachings that Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale" the dedication has already stoked a row. Bhindranwale was the fourteenth jathedar, or leader, of the prominent orthodox Sikh religious institution Damdami Taksal. He was an advocate of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution and gained national attention after his involvement in the 1978 Sikh-Nirankari clash. He was killed during Operation Bluestar. Since then, many in Punjab perceive Bhinderwala as a "saint" and "martyr" while others see him as a "terrorist", BKU farmer leader Rakesh Tikait had previously said while referring to Bhinderwale.
How SAD-A's Mann beat CM Mann
The Sangrur Lok Sabha seat was considered an AAP bastion. The party had won all the nine assembly segments -- Lehra, Dirba, Barnala, Sunam, Bhadaur, Mehal Kalan, Malerkotla, Dhuri and Sangrur -- falling under the Sangrur parliamentary constituency in the 2022 state polls. Senior AAP leader and incumbent chief minister Bhagwant Mann had won the Sangrur seat in the general elections in 2014 and 2019.
Political pundits cited disenchantment among voters over the issues like law and order situation and failure to deliver on pre-poll promises. The killing of singer Sidhu Moosewala and the “deteriorating” law and order situation also appeared to have worked against the AAP. According to political analysts, especially youths were angry over the killing of Moosewala which occurred a day after his security cover along with 400 others was pruned.
The main plank of the SAD (Amritsar) president's campaign for the Sangrur Assembly bypoll was to secure the release of Sikh prisoners lodged in jails even after the completion of their sentences. He received massive support, especially from rural areas including Muslim-majority Malerkotla.
Before Mann filed his nomination papers for the Sangrur bypoll, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, along with other leaders, had met him and urged him to support a candidate from the family of a Sikh prisoner. Mann, however, rejected the request.
Badal's party had fielded Kamaldeep Kaur, the sister of Balwant Singh Rajoana, a convict in former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh's assassination case, in the Sangrur bypoll.
Incidentally, Mann's last election win in 1999 was also from the Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency.
Speaking to reporters in Sangrur after his win, the SAD (Amritsar) leader said, "Many used to laugh, saying what will Simranjit Singh Mann do. They have been proven wrong today."
(With inputs from PTI)