Chandigarh: He may be touching 90 and may be the country’s oldest serving chief minister, but Punjab’s Parkash Singh Badal is not willing to give up just yet — politically speaking. Badal, who has seen electoral politics from the year when the country got its independence in 1947, is readying himself for another electoral battle as Punjab votes for a new assembly next February. The wily chief minister had, in the run-up to the January 2012 assembly polls, termed them his last political campaign. But, with his Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) facing a challenge as it seeks a third term in office, Badal is again leading it from the front. Badal, who turned 88 last December, has increased the frequency of his ‘Sangat Darshans’ meetings with the public for which he travels to villages and towns to listen to grievances of people at their doorstep.
Under this programme, Badal has travelled across the state a few times. “Unlike other politicians who become inaccessible to the people after coming to power, I have always reached out to people through the Sangat Darshan programme. The rush at these events shows people’s faith in our government,” Badal claims. In the 2012 assembly polls, Badal’s son and deputy in the government, Sukhbir Singh Badal, emerged as the chief strategist, leading to speculation that he could be appointed the next chief minister. But Sukhbir remained content with being Deputy Chief Minister, even though there is no doubt in anyone’s mind in Punjab’s power corridors that it is he who calls the shots.
The SAD, along with alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had created history in Punjab’s politics in 2012 by returning to power for a second consecutive term, winning 68 seats in the 117 member house. The main opposition Congress, which was quite sure of capturing power, had to face electoral humiliation. But it is not the love of politics alone that Badal senior is readying for another electoral innings. The political fight between traditional rivals, the SAD-BJP alliance and the Congress, has now been spiced up by the entry of a new challenger — the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The AAP, which has made inroads in Punjab’s political scene and had even won four Lok Sabha seats from the state in the 2014 general elections, has thrown its hat in the fray.
The confidence of the AAP leadership, and the fact that political surveys have given it a clear edge over the SAD and the Congress so far, has caused worry in the camps of both mainline parties here, causing them to sharpen their attacks on the AAP in recent weeks. Born on Dec 8, 1927, at Abul Khurana village near Malout in southwest Punjab in an agriculturist family, Badal forayed into politics by getting elected as a village headman in 1947. He was elected to the assembly for the first time in 1957 on the Congress ticket. Leaving the Congress soon after, Badal ended up opposing its policies and governments.
Well-known for his witty one-liners and memory of people and events, Badal has always remained centre-stage in Punjab’s politics in the past over six decades. He has been chief minister of Punjab five times — 1970-71, 1977-1980, 1997-2002, 2007-2012 and 2012 onwards. He briefly became a union minister in 1977 in the Morarji Desai government. Many of Badal’s close family members are in the government. Badal’s daughter-in-law Harsimrat Badal (Sukhbir’s wife) is the union minister for food processing. His son-in-law Adaish Pratap Singh Kairon is a cabinet minister in his government as is Harsimrat’s younger brother, Bikram Singh Majithia. Badal, who certainly does not fit into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s earlier comment that politicians should retire at the age of 75, is showing no signs of retiring just yet. (Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com ) –IANS
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