Far and beyond Karnataka, the hijab line resonated in a nondescript assembly segment in the Sikh-dominated state.
A radical voice in his 80s, former IPS officer Simranjit Singh Mann in the melee of Amargarh constituency in Punjab’s Malerkotla, struck a note when he photographed himself with little girls from Mandiala village wearing a hijab.
I request my Party Shriomani Akali Dal (Amritsar). Here in Punjab, we ensure that there is complete religious freedom. The villages I visit have Muslim populations. Women are free to wear the hijab. pic.twitter.com/g2oxsB8z34
— Simranjit Singh Mann (@SimranjitSADA) February 13, 2022
While no other Punjab leader across party lines, even at the height of a turbulent campaign, has addressed the hijab line, Mann has altered the narrative by imploring to follow the doctrine of Sikhism which allows for full religious freedom. He called on the Muslims of Karnataka to come to Punjab to affirm and practice religious freedom in accordance with the Constitution.
Mann’s party, SAD (Amritsar), is the only party that ideologically still believes in and contests the elections with the demand for a separate Khalistan.
Also read: As Punjab goes to vote, will AAP be a game-changer?
The Amargarh constituency from which Mann is contesting found significance in this election for several reasons. The Khalistan narrative still lives on in this constituency and some tiny parts of Punjab.
Actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu, who made headlines last year after claiming responsibility for raising the Nishan Sahib (Sikh flag) at Red Fort on Republic Day 2021, was actively campaigning for Mann . Deep, who was arrested and sent to prison for his act, was killed in a traffic accident a few days ago.
Campaigning for Mann, Deep’s video went viral when he held a broom (symbol of the AAP poll) and a sword (kirpan, symbol of the Sikh faith) in both hands and asked people if they would choose something other than a kirpan.
Despite Mann’s ideological differences with mainstream parties, his posturing on the hijab agitation in Karnataka found appeal in Amargarh in Muslim-dominated Malerkotla.
“I lose elections because people don’t vote for me,” Mann said. His party fielded some 86 candidates for the next elections, a number well above that of the last elections.
Mann’s party reached zenith once in 1989 in the Lok Sabha elections when it won six out of 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab. Mann, who was in prison at the time of the election, won his seat and became an MP for the first time. But, in 2017, SAD (Amritsar) vote share was reduced even lower than NOTA (0.7%).
Mann was again elected Member of Parliament for Sangrur in the 1999 general election. The party has no notable presence in Punjab, but Mann secured just over 48,000 votes from Sangrur in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a seat won by AAP’s Bhagwant Mann, who is now the party’s CM candidate for the February 20 ballot.
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