Asked what was for women in the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) election manifesto, Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had joked: “I gave you my wife as MP.” The woman sarpanch of Badal village, Sukhpal Kaur, who remains one of the many rubber-stamp village heads in Punjab, will wish he was serious.
As one must pass through several security checks to reach Harsimrat Kaur Badal; to approach Sukhpal, you need the clearance of her mother-in-law.
Or you go through her husband, Sandeep, or an upper-caste Akali leader of the village. Sukhpal Kaur got to be sarpanch by accident, because the seat was reserved for a Scheduled Caste woman.
When HT visited her house, she was washing clothes.
The village knows it as the house of “Gaggi sarpanch”, nickname of her husband. First, her mother-in-law tells us that we can’t meet Sukhpal, as her husband isn’t at home. After we insist, she is allowed to come out.
Sukhpal’s name is written on a large sign outside Panchyat Ghar, mentioned with the village population and grants. The woman has no clue what the figures are. “I need to consult my husband,” she said.
The sarpanch said that she knew nothing about politics and so there was no question of her campaigning for Harsimrat, who stands against her brother-in-law, Manpreet Singh Badal, of the same village for the Bathinda Lok Sabha seat.
Sukhpal could not get Harsimrat’s vote in the panchyat elections, as the Bathinda MP had skipped voting. Sukhpal, however, cannot keep her voting plan secret. It was obvious, she said, that she would vote for Harsimrat.