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'Fauja Singh' of Punjab politics

chandigarh Updated: Apr 30, 2012 13:33 IST
Harbans Singh Virdi

Much praise has been showered on the irrepressible 84-year-old Parkash Singh Badal, the grand old man of Punjab politics, who earned the distinction of becoming the chief minister for the record fifth time.

Badal has truly emerged as the 'Fauja Singh' of Punjab politics. Fauja Singh, as you know, is a young man of 100 years, a Sikh poster boy who runs marathons across the globe with many records under his turban.

Countless reasons for Badal's success have been cited by modern-day Chanakayas - pollsters, punters and politicians alike. Since I am a political novice in this volatile game, I have no definite take on the stunning Congress defeat in the 2012 Punjab assembly elections. But there's one factor that I consider crucial - the humility of the grand old man, which may have tilted the scales in favour of his party.

It is a time-tested maxim that humility begets love and respect while arrogance breeds hatred and repulsion. That may be the secret to the riddle of the election results when odds were stacked against Badal and his party.

I am writing this with much conviction because I had the foretaste of his humility about 40 years ago in Amritsar when I was a cub commentator. The Jalandhar Kendra of All India Radio had commissioned me to do the commentary of a Punjab versus UP football match in the National School Games held at Amritsar in the sixties.

After 'scoring' a few goals in the first 15-minute stint of my assignment, I climbed down the stairs of the commentary box at the Gandhi Ground when I was approached by a 10-year-old schoolgirl seeking an autograph of Sardar Parkash Singh Badal, who had become chief minister for the first time.

I was moved by the child's request since she hardly knew me and I was myself a stranger in those environs. Without hesitating for a moment, I went straight to Sardar Badal, benefiting from the lack of much security during those days. Having listened to my request, Sardar Badal asked me to bring the child, who stood at a distance. When I led her to Badal, he first blessed the child and then obliged her with an autograph. His wife Surinder Kaur, who sat beside him, hugged the girl.

Incidentally, this was the only encounter I had with Badal in my 40 odd years of journalistic life.

A fortnight after the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP victory in this year's polls, a 75-year-old former MLA confided in me: "Mr Badal knows the art of winning over disgruntled elements. He does not feel shy of visiting the annoyed and winning them over. For him, this approach has stood the test of time."

This approach has also made him the 'Fauja Singh' of Punjab politics.