From Amritsar ‘padwoman’ to mobile repair shop owner: meet AAP’s ‘giant killers’ in Punjab

Chandīgarh: Even though the Punjab election verdict sent shockwaves across the country and beyond, it was lesser-known faces who stole the show by beating the bigwigs of the state.

One of the major upsets in the election was the massive defeat of incumbent Congress Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi of Bhadaur in Barnala district. Channi was beaten by more than 34,000 votes by Labh Singh Ugoke of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), who runs a small mobile repair shop in the constituency.

Ugoke’s father is a driver while his mother works as a sweeper in a public school. According to his election affidavit, a 2014 Hero Honda motorcycle is all he owns.

As the election approached, Channi claimed to be a “gareeb ghar ka beta(the son of a poor family) while Ugoke focused his campaign on unmasking Channi as a “fake aam admi (ordinary man)”.

“This election verdict proved beyond any doubt who was in fact wrong and who was the real aam aadmi,” Ugoke said. Thread after his resounding victory.

When asked “Who is the real Labh Singh”, he replied saying that he belongs to a poor man mazdoor (labourer) from Ugoke village in Barnala district. “My father worked for years in the fields as a labourer, then later as a driver. I was in sixth grade when my mother started sweeping in a village school. She still goes there every day. As a child, I often helped him with his work as well,” he said.

He said that while he was growing up he wanted a job in the police or the armed forces. “Later, I took a mobile repair course and opened a shop in my own village. I also took a plumbing course in hopes of getting a decent job in Middle Eastern countries, but I couldn’t travel abroad,” he added.

Fate, however, had something else in store for him. When the AAP came to Punjab in 2013, he joined the party as a volunteer. Since then, he has worked tirelessly for the party. The party eventually recognized his efforts and sent him from Bhadaur.

When asked if he was worried about the election result as he was fighting against the incumbent chief minister, Ugoke replied: “Not at all. Channi had money but I had people on my side and the election results proved it.

He said his election was opposed by people in his constituency. “It is sad that traditional political parties have made elections very expensive over the years. But I am happy that people came to my aid during the campaign,” he said, noting that even his motorcycle, his only possession, had been bought for him by his father.

“The car I campaigned in was my friend’s. I remember during the campaign, people would voluntarily get out in their vehicles every day and make sure the message of the AAP was spread everywhere. My victory, in a real sense, belongs to the people.

Labh Singh, speaking to The Wire during a personal visit to Jalandhar. Photo: Kusum Arora/ The Wire.

Since his victory, Ugoke has become a star attraction. He is often spotted clicking selfies with his people. Even AAP national organizer Arvind Kejriwal mentioned his name in his victory speech in Delhi, saying, “You know who defeated Charanjit Singh? AAP candidate Labh Singh Ugoke who works in a mobile repair shop.

Another AAP candidate who has caught the public eye is Jeevan Jyot Kaur, who defeated two prominent state leaders; the Navjot Singh Sidhu of Congress and the Bikram Majithia of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) of Amritsar East, with a margin of over 6,700 votes.

Kaur got 39,520 votes, while Sidhu and Majithia got 32,807 votes and 25,112 votes respectively.

Kaur was a very interesting candidate. Before joining the AAP as a volunteer and then becoming the party’s urban district chairperson, she was an activist in her community, promoting menstrual hygiene for women.

She started an NGO, SHE, to raise awareness about sanitary pads and thus earned the name “Padwoman” in Amritsar for reaching thousands of poor women and educating them about menstrual hygiene. According to the NGO’s website, it also works consistently to create a drug-free society,

In her interaction with the media after the poll result, she too noted that hers was a common man victory.

She said only the media glare made it a hot seat. Otherwise, the people of the constituency had already decided to vote for the AAP because they were unhappy with the inaction of the traditional parties.

“It is sad that despite being long represented by the Sidhu family, this constituency has remained neglected. It is the least developed area in terms of civic infrastructure. My priority is to transform this constituency,” she said.

David versus Goliath

Meanwhile, the electoral battle in Sangrur was no less a “David vs. Goliath” fight, where AAP’s top candidate and youth leader, Narinder Kaur Bharaj, who declared assets worth Rs 24,000 in the nomination papers, was opposed to incumbent Congress Minister Vijay. Inder Singla and BJP candidate and businessman Arvind Khanna. While Singla had declared Rs 9.62 crore, Khanna had assets worth Rs 22.77 crore.

A law graduate, one of her videos went viral ahead of the January election in which she reached the Subdivision Magistrate’s office to drop off her papers on an Activa scooter with her mother. She continued to campaign on that same two-wheeler.

During the election, Punjab Chief Minister Designate Bhagwant Mann mentioned her saying, “She does her household chores first before leaving for her election campaign.

The face of the AAP’s CM, Bhagwant Mann, named Narinder Kaur Bharaj (pictured) as an example of the ‘ordinary female candidates’ the party is fielding in Punjab. Photo: Facebook/NarinderKBharaj.

Despite stiff competition, she secured more than 74,000 votes, winning the constituency by a whopping margin of 36,430 votes over her congressional heavyweight rival Singla. BJP candidate Khanna was reduced to just 13,000 votes.

After his victory, Bharaj told the media that the verdict was incredible. “People voted for us with an open heart. Now that people trust us, we will ensure that the Delhi model of governance is implemented in Punjab. Schools and hospitals will be given top priority,” she added.

Another major upset in the election was the defeat of SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal of Jalalabad, a constituency he has never lost since he first ran from there in 2009. However, riding the AAP wave, congressional renegade Jagdeep Kamboj, who joined AAP last year, beat Badal by nearly 31,000 votes.

Kamboj, who left Congress three years ago after being denied a ticket, fought independently in the 2019 partial poll but failed to secure more than 5,000 votes. His victory reflects deep-rooted anger against the state’s traditional parties; anger did not spare important leaders either.

It was this very reason that led to the defeat of Sukhbir’s father and SAD patriarch, Parkash Singh Badal. Badal lost to AAP’s Gurmeet Singh Khudian by 11,396 votes. It was a humiliating defeat for senior Badal, who has lost just once in his 75-year political career. Now 94 years old, his political career seems to be coming to an end.

Khudian himself is the son of former MP Jagdev Singh Khudian and is another congressional defector who joined the AAP last year after feeling like he was being sidelined by the party.

Outgoing Chief Minister Channi also challenged Chamkaur Sahib, however, we were also defeated from there, this time by his namesake; AAP candidate Charanjit Singh, 55 years old and a doctor by profession.

Charanjit Singh was handpicked by the AAP in 2016 and also challenged Channi in the last election; however, he had lost by over 12,000 votes. However, he continued to work in the constituency and managed to defeat the Channi by 7,942 votes this time around.

This opportunity has also arisen since Channi’s nephew was caught, before the election, in an illegal sand mining case and, alleging Channi’s involvement in the same case, Charanjit Singh has made controversy the focus of his campaign.

Another giant AAP killer in this election was former SAD leader Ajitpal Singh Kohli, who accomplished the extremely difficult task of defeating former chief minister Amarinder Singh from his pocket borough of Patiala.

While a former mayor of the city, he was not a strong contender when he joined the AAP just before the elections.