I grew up when terrorism was rife in Punjab. In fact, the day I was born, there was a curfew in Jalandhar because of which people used to jokingly call me Curfew Singh. I studied in Jalandhar till 12th standard after which I got into NUJS, Kolkata to study law. Incidentally, that was the same year I also sat in the cockpit of an aircraft for the first time to get my student pilot license.
When I went to Kolkata, I met people from varied backgrounds and places. I wasn’t the brightest student but I enjoyed every flavour of college life- academics, sports, debates and also met the love of my life, my wife. My college years also shaped my interest in politics, starting from being a member of the Mess Committee which bought ration for the hostel, being a member of the Disciplinary Committee and many others. Slowly but surely, I became a highly politically charged student and even became the president of an apolitical student union in my final year. I learned that effective participation in decision making and effective implementation of that decision making can truly make an impact. What excited me the most about politics was my interaction with people, discussing various nuances of politics and settling the wrinkles between students and teachers.
There were several defining moments where I understood the importance of politics in everyday life. The excesses meted out by the college administration to the students on simple issues regarding timing of exams were one of them. In that situation, I played a very meaningful role negotiating between the two sides. I realised that there is a vacuum for a leader. The desire to stand up for students who are treated unfairly and fighting for someone who is not capable of fighting on their own pushed me towards leadership roles. I was also influenced by the movie Invictus. It shows how effective leadership can diminish hate between communities, how politics is an instrument to bring people together and shed their grudges and how to lead by example.
I came into formal politics via a talent hunt organised by INC in 2013 for new media faces for the party. Out of various applications from all over the country and through a rigorous exercise spanning over six months, 50 people were chosen to represent the Congress party on TV and I was one of them. My political journey has been exciting but gradual. In 2013, I became the State Media Panelist, in 2015 the National Media panelist and in 2018, the National Spokesperson for the party. The common theme in 2013, 2015 and 2018 was that I was the youngest appointee in all three years. Since then, I have been a star campaigner for various state elections like Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand. I have also been in-charge of some elections from the media perspective. I even got the opportunity to address students in prestigious universities which I had only seen pamphlets, such as Harvard and Columbia.
Despite doing more than 5000 TV debates and interviews, I get the maximum adrenaline rush when I address a crowd and interact with people. What drives me from a micro perspective is, if you are a reasonably well known public figure people have hopes that you will solve their problems. At the very initial stage of my career, I made sure to help underprivileged families. For example, even something as basic as admission to a hospital is held hostage to a call from someone influential. That was an awakening moment for me. This was my first brush with reality where I could see the chasm between the system and the common man, especially the lower income groups. I realised how a politician can act as a bridge between the common man and the system. At a macro level, it is to be a part of election petitions, expose excesses and arbitrariness and take on the government during 2019 elections, when people approach me: farmers, labourers or even industrialists to solve their problems stemming from red tapism.
There have been many setbacks in my career. A wise man told me in the beginning of my career that politics is a daily game of snakes and ladders- If you are at 99 and about to reach 100, you might be bitten by a snake and need to start your journey again. There is no fixed career path. Along with hard work and destiny, it is important to be at the right place at the right time. From 2013 till 2019, I had a dream run as a youngster being watched by millions every night, having a social media following, being humbled by people and their blessings. But the snake struck when I could not contest the LS elections in 2019. It felt like a mirror shattering into a thousand pieces. That was my first major setback. But as they say, you cannot get anything before your time. I had a dream of becoming a young parliamentarian. However, I set aside my grudges and considered myself lucky to be where I was. I went on to campaign for the person who got the opportunity to contest from the same constituency!
My advice for youngsters is to never have grudges because they will make your wings heavy. Keep the focus, keep the faith because some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue. Most importantly, stay away from peer pressure. Never compare your life to others and never compromise on your self respect.