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Akali Dal sheds its Jathedar past

india Updated: Jan 29, 2007 11:34 IST
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In what could be called the first major political makeover of the 21st century, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is shunning its image of a Jathedars' party and is donning a new outlook - it now wants to be seen as the modern Akali Dal.

At the helm of the party's modern outlook is the 44-year-old US-educated MP Sukhbir Singh Badal. Badal Junior, as he is referred to in press notes of the ruling Congress in Punjab, is leading the party from the front as it takes on the Congress in a decisive election to the 117-member assembly in the state February 13.

"We are now the modern Akali Dal. We will not let anyone beat us in politics because of our earlier image," said Sukhbir, a masters in business administration from California State University, recently while hosting a lavish, multi-cuisine brunch for mediapersons at the Taj hotel in Chandigarh.

The venue, ironically, is the favourite eating haunt of Congress leader and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

In the last few months, Sukhbir has assumed centre-stage in Akali Dal politics - leaving behind senior leaders to emerge as the political scion to his father, Akali Dal president and former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

The 'kakaji' (as spoilt brats of powerful Punjab politicians are called) image has gone with Sukhbir being the man in command as his party tries to come back to power. But observers already see signs of political arrogance in him.

From holding rallies, deciding Badal senior's itinerary, choosing advertisements in a full-scale advertising war on the ruling Congress, securing nominations for younger leaders, hobnobbing with alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to calling the shots with Punjab's bureaucracy and police officials - Sukhbir is all over.

At party rallies, his photographs are as big as his father's - making it amply clear that even party candidates realise his importance.

A two-time MP, Sukhbir was a central minister of state for industries in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government a few years ago.

The 'modernity' of the Akali Dal gets reflected in the party engaging professionals to run their media and advertising campaigns, rallies being covered and recorded using the latest equipment and getting camera trolley lifts to show all angles. It is also seen using top brands of vehicles during campaigns and, of course, hovering around in choppers and airplanes across the state.

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