AAP's Punjab pick Bhagwant Mann on Tuesday said the party's unusual televote in the state - a poll before the next month's state election to choose the chief ministerial candidate - was his idea. The 48-year-old stand-up comic-turned-politician emerged as the popular choice in the telepoll with a score of 93 per cent, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal revealed this afternoon.
"The idea of a poll was mine. Arvind Kejriwal told me that it had been decided... we will announce your name. I said this is done by traditional parties... the name of the chief ministerial candidate is announced from the chief's living room. Let's involve people...In four days, we got more than 22 lakh calls," the two-time MP from Sangrur told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
"Not only did the people choose me... they also told us what all we should do in the state. I would have been okay if people had chosen another candidate. In a democracy, you can't impose your choices."
Mr Mann also hit out at the critics who have been attacking him over his past alcohol addiction. "There is no drinking problem. I've put a stop to their narrative. Even party leaders of (Akali Dal's) Sukhbir Badal are involved in drugs. I don't need their NoC (No-Objection Certificate). At least I wasn't drinking the blood of the people of the state."
The AAP - one of the key challengers to the ruling Congress - is the first party to reveal the name of its chief ministerial candidate. Last week, the party had asked the people of Punjab to dial, WhatsApp or SMS on 7074870748 to name their choice.
In the interview, Mr Mann said the party did not delay the announcement. "There was no delay. It was a part of our strategy. We still have time. Arvind Kejriwal did rallies. I had been doing rallies. We have been campaigning for years."
Mr Mann, who had gained popularity as a stand-up comic and actor, started his political career in 2011 when he joined the Manpreet Singh Badal-led People's Party of Punjab.
He contested unsuccessfully in the 2012 state polls from Lehra. He joined AAP in 2014, lost the 2017 state polls to Akali Dal's Sukhbir Singh Badal but retained the Sangrur seat in the 2019 general election.
On his journey to becoming the AAP's parliament face from being a comic, he told NDTV, "Comedy is a very serious business. And my comedy was not just to induce laughs but also thought-provoking. I raise the issue of cancer, farmers' suicide, I am a two-time MP. Will people select someone who just tells a joke? I have quit my comedy career to be devoted to politics."
Concluding with a political jibe, he said, Congress could not redeem itself by picking a new Chief Minister - Charanjit Channi. "They changed Alibaba, but Chalis chor (40 thieves) are the same."