Punjab patriarch held fire and water together

Ajay Bhardwaj | April 27, 2023 07:15 PM

Ajay Bhardwaj 

The patriarch of the Punjab politics 

Parkash Singh Badal, who was five-time Chief Minister of Punjab, passed away on April 25, 2023, marking an end of a tumultuous era.

A humble, suave and an astute politician,  Badal at the age of 95, left behind a legacy that is both admired and criticised.

In his last days he was veritably a lonely man presiding over the ruins of Shiromani Akali Dal of which he has a chief patron after handing over the party baton to his son, Sukhbir Badal.

What made him a lonely man was that he was presiding over the ruins of the party with none of his senior colleagues by his side in his last days. 

After registering the poorest ever performance in the 2022 Assembly elections with just three members in the 117-member House,  Badal had been charge-sheeted in the controversial Bargari firing incident and was on bail. It took a huge psychological toll on him.

Significantly, the day he passed away , a supplementary chargesheet had been filed against Badal,  his son, Sukhbir Badal and others. 

What added to Badal's woes was that the Shiromani Akali Dal he had presided over with aplomb for more than five decades,  was in a shambles. A large number of Badal’s compatriots had left him and the party has since been losing its mass base, particularly in the rural areas. 

The Akali Dal's ambivalent stance during the farmers agitation against the controversial three agriculture bills further isolated Badal among farmers. In due course, Badal jettisoned the party's age-old alliance with the BJP. 

There has been a serious loss of credibility and trust among people of Punjab that Badal saw happening in his last days. 

Yet, he stood like a colossus 

who dominated Punjab politics for more than half a century starting his political career as a Sarpanch and becoming the youngest  CM of the state at 43 in 1970.

A graduate from Lahore , he was mentored by his uncle Teja Singh in his initial days and was ushered into politics with the help of close relative Baldev Singh (Former Defence Minister of India) and Giani Kartar Singh.

Making his debut in the Punjab Assembly in 1957 on the Congress ticket, Badal became chief minister in 1970. The coalition politics, however, caused his quick ouster from the office. 

But in the course he built an untenable bond with the BJP and that made him learn how important the unity is for Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiyat.

That was his initiation into how to carry the contradictions together. How to hold fire and water together. 

In one breathe he placated the radicals,kept them in good humor, yet he upheld the national interest keeping his ties intact with the BJP. 

In 1977 he had his second innings as the Punjab chief Minister with Jan Sangh ( now BJP) by his side, in 1984 he didn't shy away from joining hands with the radicals to burn copies of the Constitution in Delhi. 

Badal slugged, survived, prospered and eventually triumphed in the fierce and competitive world of Sikh and Punjab politics due to his flexible, moderate and pragmatic style of politics .

By now he knew how to swim with the tide and times.

In the post- Operation Blue Star keeping the feelings of radicals in mind he refused to join the Akali government led by Surjit Singh Barnala. That,in the long run, helped him to remain in tangent with the then popular Sikh sentiments. 

While many Akali leaders were targeted by militants during the blood-soaked days of terrorism in Punjab, Badal emerged unscathed after the decade-long militancy.

In 1992 he agreed to the militants' call to boycott the Assembly elections but in 1997 he joined hands with the BJP to form a coalition government. 

Such was his acumen to carry the contrasts together. 

Later he built bridges with militants with as equal ease as his ties were with the BJP. 

He encountered his major political crisis when he and 18-time SGPC president GS Tohra fell off with each other. Badal went to the hilt to settle his political scores with Tohra who was a towering personality in the panthic politics. 

However, Badal hit his political nadir when he was put behind the bars along with Sukhbir Badal by the then chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh on corruption charges in 2004.

 If there was one trait of Badal which was admired by both friends and foes it was his hard work, humility and direct accessibility to people. 

 Badal always kept a punishing schedule. He rose up early, was disciplined in his diet and exercise and worked nonstop till deep into the night. 

He also  pioneered the concept of “Sangat Darshan “ which saw him visiting different parts of the state with administration in tow ,directly listening to peoples grievances and disbursing grants.

It enabled Badal to have his ears close to the ground .It was very rare for a petitioner who came to Badal to leave disappointed or unheard .

Among his substantial legacies are his role in championing “Hindu-Sikh” unity and his alliance with BJP which helped to defuse communal tensions in the post militancy phase.

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