Akali patriarch Badal at 94 still not ready to hang his boots

After seven decades in politics, the grand old man of Punjab politics and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch, Parkash Singh Badal, at 94 is still not ready to ride off into the sunset.

Akali patriarch Badal at 94 still not ready to hang his boots
Akali patriarch Badal at 94 still not ride off into sunset. Source: IANS

By Vishal Gulati

Chandigarh, Dec 25 (IANS) After seven decades in politics, the grand old man of Punjab politics and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch, Parkash Singh Badal, at 94 is still not ready to ride off into the sunset.

Despite the political turbulence in the past few years in the state, Badal, affectionately known as Badal Sahab for being a moderate leader with no extreme position even during the height of militancy in the border state, is once again trying to prove his mettle of being a people's politician with a whole host of policies enacted under his five helms that started by becoming the country's youngest Chief Minister in 1970.

Also holding a tag to become the youngest Sarpanch in India in 1947 at the age of 20, the elderly Badal -- who handed over the reins of the party in 2008 to his only son Sukhbir Badal, the man known for micro poll management for his now own controlled 100-year old party -- is once again set to return to 'active' politics after making 11 stints in the Assembly and Parliament.

Just weeks ahead of the Assembly elections announcement, Badal senior has started touring his Lambi constituency in Muktsar district.

Accompanying his daughter-in-law and Bathinda MP, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the not-so tech-savvy Badal, who still believes in one-on-one connect, is regularly interacting with his constituents.

At one of the recent public meetings, former Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal was quoted as saying: "When the SAD-BSP comes to power, Sukhbir Badal will be your Chief Minister and Badal Sahab will be your super Chief Minister.

"You all convince him to contest the poll. He keeps on saying that health does not allow him. But you all convince him, you can make him win elections even if he sits at home."

Without mincing words, even Badal senior is categorically clear in saying in his speeches that, "whatever duty the party assigns him, he will do that".

Reacting strongly and firmly after a drugs case was registered against former Akali minister Bikram Singh Majithia, Badal senior dared the government not to resort to vendetta politics to hide its failure.

Talking to the media here on December 23, the elderly Badal, who firmly believes sacrilege acts hurt every devout Sikh, said the recent incidents of sacrilege and violence have a direct link with the writing on the wall about the outcome of the 2022 Assembly polls.

He said the sacred Sri Harmandar Sahib had been made the target of devious and dangerous designs by the Mughals, the British and the Congress rulers.

"After 1984 this is the first time that the most sacred shrine of humanity has been made the target of evil designs and it is not merely a coincidence that this too happens during a Congress government," a beaming 6'2" towering leader, who has spent 17 years in jail in various Akali movements, a fact that prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call him Nelson Mandela, said.

Also he said his opponents registered hundreds of cases against him and his family, but it did not bother him.

"I have spent 17 years in jail in various Akali 'morchas' for democracy, civil liberties, peace and reconciliation and I am not afraid of going to jails once again," the senior Badal, country's oldest politician next only to BJP veteran L.K. Advani, told IANS.

"The Congress has not spared even my wife. If it thinks this can weaken the Akali Dal, it is mistaken," he added.

The shrewd and grounded Badal, who played a major role in bringing another Akali stalwart Ranjit Singh Brahmpura back into the party this week, said: "Today I am very happy that two brothers have joined hands again."

Appealing to other turncoat Akali leaders to follow Brahmpura's example, he said: "Every time we have been attacked we have emerged stronger. Even Indira Gandhi could not break our will. False cases being registered against us by the Congress won't deter us from our goal in any manner whatsoever."

He believes the total neglect of governance, stoppage of all welfare and development initiatives by the government will be the reasons behind the rout of the Congress in the forthcoming polls.

Political observers say the biggest poll issue this time will be again the drug menace and the recent acts of sacrilege and the turn of events in the aftermath.

The Akali Dal is yet to announce its candidate from Lambi despite party chief Sukhbir Badal announcing 91 candidates for the upcoming polls that the party will fight in alliance with the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The Akali Dal and the BSP will contest 97 and 20 seats respectively for the 117-member Assembly.

Snapping over two-decades-long ties, the Akali Dal pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in September 2020 after sharp differences over the three controversial farm laws.

"Since Sukhbir lacks the political acumen of his father, the party is banking largely on the senior Badal to resurrect it ahead of the forthcoming do-or-die poll for the party," a senior Akali leader admits to IANS.

The Congress, which was out of power in Punjab for a decade (2007-17), got 77 seats in the February 4, 2017, Assembly elections after drubbing the Akali Dal-BJP combine.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])