Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal, who is set to be re-elected as the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president, on Monday said that in five years at the helm, he had changed the "attitude, configuration and agenda" of the party.
Fifty-one-year-old Sukhbir was relaxed at his Sector-9 house in Chandigarh as his re-election on Tuesday remains a mere formality. Dressed in trademark white kurta-pyjama, Sukhbir, who is just back from the tour of Turkey and the UAE, spoke of replicating town planning, waste management system and road transport of these countries in Punjab.
"I will change the face of Amritsar, Jalandhar and Ludhiana in two years," he says, adding that he is following intelligent economics where development initiatives will be self-sustaining and finances in the state will improve. "When we go to the assembly polls in 2017, the revenue collection would touch Rs 40,000 crore and the state would be revenue surplus," he hoped.
Sukhbir, who became the youngest president of the party at 46, in 2008, was not ready to accept his re-election as yet.
With Sukhbir and his chief minister father Parkash Singh Badal in firm control of the party, the re-election seems only a formality. "It's no longer a rural party. I have broadened its base in urban areas," Sukhbir says, adding in the same breath that he is not leaving the Sikh ideology behind.
Sukhbir faces criticism from Taksali Akalis that he has changed the face of the party, which he does not deny. According to him, he has expanded the vote share of his party and has pushed the Congress to a corner.
The announcement of his re-election will be made at the Teja Singh Samundari Hall in the Golden Temple in Amritsar on Tuesday when 445 party delegates from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Maharashtra would assemble there.
"We have made Hindus, Christians and Muslims as office-bearers of our party during the past five years. Since I took over the party, we have not lost any election, whether it was the 2012 assembly elections, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Delhi Shiromani Gurdwara Management Committee or the recently held civic body and panchayat polls," Sukhbir says. Of the 57 MLAs of SAD, 11 are Hindus and one a Muslim.
Parkash Singh Badal, who remained the SAD president from 1996 to 2008, after taking over from Surjeet Singh Barnala, was the 19th president of the party and Sukhbir is the 20th. Badal senior is expected to retain the post of the party patron.
The party was founded in 1920 and Sanmukh Singh Jhabal became its first president, followed by Baba Kharak Singh, Gopal Singh Quami, Master Tara Singh, Giani Kartar Singh, Hukam Singh and Sant Fateh Singh. It was later headed by Surjit Singh Barnala, Jagdev Singh Talwandi and Harchand Singh Longowal.
The next challenge for Sukhbir is the forthcoming parliamentary elections and ensuring win for at least six candidates from his party in the Delhi assembly elections.
Reacting to the criticism of running the party in a corporate style, Sukhbir says he focuses on development and finances. "A successful businessman also runs the government successfully. When you make business viable, why can't a state run in viable terms," he says.
He clarified that the name of the next president of his party would emerge on Tuesday. "Please wait till tomorrow and let the party follow the protocol before announcing the name," Sukhbir told journalists.