As the BJP-led Union government announced the names of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and BJP patriarch LK Advani for the Padma Vibhushan, the message went beyond mere honour of veteran politicians.
Clubbing Badal and Advani for the second highest civilian award is a clear message by the saffron party that all is well in its relationship with Badal's Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), its senior partner in the Punjab government and a trusted junior in the NDA at the Centre. They are also contesting together in the Delhi polls.
The two parties' relations saw a rough patch after a below-par performance in Punjab in the Lok Sabha polls despite a sweep otherwise. The BJP attributed the loss to the SAD and even sought to shift the blame to the Akalis for the drug menace, a prime issue in the 2014 elections. There was thus speculation that the BJP wanted to break the alliance and go it alone as it did in Haryana - where the SAD was in the opposing camp - and Maharashtra. Assembly polls in Punjab are due in 2017.
But it needs mention here that even as leaders of the SAD and BJP exchanged some foul words during the shift-blame period, Badal never uttered any harsh words against the saffron party leadership.
After the announcement of the award, state BJP president Kamal Sharma, who recently shared the stage with the Badals to bring in a thaw, said, "Our entire leadership is happy that the lifetime service of a tall leader has been recognised." Cancellation of a series of anti-drugs rallies planned by the BJP from Amritsar, which was to begin on January 22, was seen as a recent turning point too.
Meanwhile, SAD secretary general Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa termed the award an honour for Punjab and the SAD.
First for Punjab politician
Badal, who is into his fifth tenure as Punjab CM, first got the chair in 1970, making him arguably the most senior politician in India at present. He is also the first active politician from Punjab to have been picked for the Padma Vibhushan.
Among other Punjabis, Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir and Amrita Pritam had got Padma awards for their work in the field of literature. Manohar Singh Gill, who later became a Union minister in the Congress-led UPA, had got the award as an IAS officer, while former PM Manmohan Singh too got the award in 1987 as a civil servant.
'Overwhelmed' CM says award is for all Punjabis
Chandigarh: Reacting to the announcement of Padma Vibhushan for him, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said he was "overwhelmed with feelings of boundless humility" at being chosen for the second highest civilian award of the country. A statement issued by his office said that he dedicated the award to "millions of humble and hard-working people toiling in farms, shops, offices and homes in villages and cities to make India a better place to live in". "This is an honour bestowed on the proud and patriotic people of Punjab," it read.
Badal said the honour would fill him with "even greater humility and determination to continue to work for the upliftment of the people, especially the poor and the downtrodden, and [for] the hard-earned atmosphere of peace and communal harmony in the state".