Even at 89, Badal pulls no punches in Punjab poll battle against Cong, AAP
The five-time chief minister Parkash Singh Badal is battling anti-incumbency in Punjab, addressing three election rallies a day.assembly elections Updated: Jan 28, 2017 11:57 IST
Music blasts on a cold Wednesday morning as a 500-strong crowd watches a publicity video on a big screen at the Sangrur grain market. It is foggy and their teeth are chattering, but they remain rooted to the spot in grim determination.
After all, they are Akali supporters, and it’s not every day that they get to see their icon – Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal – in the flesh.
But still, the rally organisers are anxious because most of the chairs laid out at the venue are empty. They ask the usually punctual Badal to come a little late, hoping to garner a respectable crowd by then. The strategy pays off. When the chief minister’s Toyota Land Cruiser rolls in 35 minutes later, the place is packed to the brim.
Badal, who is here to campaign for sitting Akali MLA Parkash Chand Garg, is welcomed with a siropa (a garment bestowed upon a person as a mark of honour). After a few customary speeches, it is his turn to speak.
It doesn’t start well. Even as the chief minister takes the mike, a small group of people starts shouting slogans and waving black flags at him. Policemen deployed at the venue swing into action, shooing them out in a matter of minutes.
However, the 89-year-old political warhorse remains unperturbed. He dismisses the slogan-shouting bunch as “troublemakers who know nothing else”, and then goes on to launch a scathing attack on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). “This is a war between vikas (development) and vinash (destruction). Peace and brotherhood are on one side, and disruptive forces are on the other. AAP leaders tell people to throw stones and disrupt our meetings. They have links with people who create trouble and disturb peace. Strengthening such a party will be a sin,” he thunders.
Badal accuses AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal of promoting his own political interests, and doing nothing for people from the state. “Kejriwal is also the Delhi chief minister. Delhi has a huge population of Punjabis, but there is not a single Punjabi minister in his government,” he says.
The chief minister then targets the Congress, which – according to him – let down the people of Punjab in both political and religious matters. “They divided Sikhs and Hindus, snatched our capital (Chandigarh) and tried to take our water. When (then Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi performed the ground-breaking ceremony of the SYL canal, Amarinder was present. Duja jeda hai, woh Dilli aala, kehnda hai Punjab da paani, saare Hindustan da hai (Kejriwal claims he belongs to Punjab and whole India). He is from Haryana... he was born there. We have to save Punjab from them,” he tells the gathering, alleging that people who indulged in violence over the Guru Granth Sahib desecration enjoyed political patronage.
Badal then adopts a preachy tone, presenting himself and the SAD-BJP alliance as the sole protectors of peace. The crowd doesn’t sound impressed. But when he moves on to listing the sops announced in his manifesto – ghee, sugar, gas stoves and pressure cookers – loud cheers break out.
“We will deliver on our promises. Keep away from AAP and Congress, because both these parties are gapod shanks (blabbermouths),” he advises the people, winding up the 28-minute speech.
Playing the Punjabiyat card
The five-time chief minister is addressing three election rallies a day, toiling hard to battle the strong undercurrent of anti-incumbency his party faces. While age may have slowed him down, Badal’s speeches retain their sarcasm in election campaigns marked by mud-slinging, taunts and threats.
Punjabi identity is the common thread that runs through his speeches, apart from attempts to kindle some righteous Sikh anger by reminding the people of the “excesses” committed by the Congress in the past – especially Operation Bluestar.
Badal’s next halt is at a local dana mandi (grain market) in Dirba, where the Akali Dal has fielded kabaddi player Gulzar Singh. The crowd that has gathered here is impressive. Welcomed with loud cheers, an elated Badal begins by thanking the people for turning up in such large numbers. Then he moves on to praise the party’s candidate in the constituency. “Gulzar sone di dali hai (Gulzar is a gold bar). I have seen him play many matches in the Kabaddi Olympics. He will win gold in political kabaddi as well,” says Badal.
While both AAP and the Congress find themselves at the receiving end, the rookie party bears the brunt of Badal’s barbs. Hitting out at Kejriwal and his supporters for hurting religious sentiments by featuring the broom – its party symbol – alongside a picture of the Golden Temple on its manifesto, he says: “They have no understanding of Sikh ethos. They only want to mislead the people and come to power.”
Next, Badal’s cavalcade heads out to Moonak in Lehra, an impregnable fortress of the Congress, for his last public meeting of the day. In this assembly segment, former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal is pitted against Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa – also described as “sone di dali” by Badal.
“There can be no candidate better than him. When a government is formed, the most capable person gets the finance (ministry),” the chief minister says, before moving on to blast his political rivals.
“The Congress has hurt the interests of Punjab. AAP khumbi ji ug gayi (AAP has come up like a mushroom). If such people come to power, where will they take Punjab? No one trusts them. They remind me of tutte je (ramshackle) trucks on roads with old bodies and worn-out tyres, but have ‘Chal baliye tera rab hi rakha (Girl, God will take care of you)’ written on their backsides,” he says, drawing loud guffaws from his supporters.
With this, Badal wraps up his agenda for the day. But then, with the election slated to be held on February 4, he can afford no rest until victory is attained. Or not.