Come election season, Punjab parties turn 'starry-eyed'

Chandigarh, Feb 14: Major political players in Punjab have literally become ‘starry-eyed’ ahead of next year’s assembly polls in the state. Actors, singers, comedians and other celebrities are out to be wooed by four major political parties on Punjab’s electoral front. The latest entrants into the political fold are Punjabi comedian-actor Gurpreet Ghuggi who joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) while singer-actor Balkar Sidhu, who had earlier been part of the AAP, joined hands with the Congress.

These two are not the only ones. With assembly polls in Punjab one year away, more celebrities are likely to take on political colours. For AAP, getting a celebrity face in Punjab is nothing new.

Its candidate, comedian-actor and singer Bhagwant Mann, won the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat with the highest margin in the entire state in the 2014 general election. He defeated ruling Shiromani Akali Dal stalwart and former union minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa by over 200,000 votes. Mann, who had earlier aligned with the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) floated by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s estranged nephew and former Punjab fince minister Manpreet Singh Badal in 2011, is now a prominent face of the AAP in Punjab despite controversies over his public behaviour and allegations of coming drunk to events.

“Ghuggi joining AAP will be an asset to the party. We will utilise his services for the party’s campaigning,” Mann said here after Ghuggi, a stand-up comedian and actor, joined the AAP. The AAP, which was routed in the rest of the country in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, won four parliamentary seats from Punjab alone.

Balkar Sidhu, a friend of Bhagwant Mann, was earlier part of the AAP and has now joined the Congress. He was given the AAP ticket for the Talwandi Sabo by-election in 2014 but it was withdrawn later due to his me being involved in controversies related to human trafficking and eulogising of the gun-culture through his songs. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the AAP had fielded singer Jassi Jasraj for the high-profile Bathinda parliamentary seat poll. He finished third. In the 2012 assembly polls, the Congress fielded popular singer Mohammed Sadiq for the Bhadaur reserved assembly seat. He won the election, but that has been challenged in court. In 2013, Punjabi singing sensation Miss Pooja joined the BJP for a brief period. She has not been politically active lately.

In the past, the BJP, which is an alliance partner of the Akali Dal in Punjab, had fielded two celebrities - actor Vinod Khan and cricketer-turned-TV celebrity vjot Singh Sidhu for the Gurdaspur and Amritsar Lok Sabha seats. While Khan has won the Gurdaspur seat four times and lost once (2009), Sidhu got elected from Amritsar thrice (2004, 2007 (bypoll) and 2009). The BJP dumped Sidhu in the 2014 elections, opting for senior leader Arun Jaitley, who is now the country’s fince minister, for the Amritsar seat.

Jaitley lost the election, his first foray into electoral politics, by a margin of over 100,000 votes to senior Congress leader and former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Akali Dal fielded well-known Sufi singer Hans Raj Hans for the Jalandhar parliamentary seat. Hans continued singing paeans for the Akali Dal leadership till 2014 before quietly exiting the political scene. In the 2014 general election, the BJP fielded Bollywood actress Kirron Kher while the AAP trusted another actress, Gul Pag, for the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat. Kher, who is known for her motherly roles in big-ticket Bollywood movies, was elected as the MP of Chandigarh. (IANS)

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