The Shiromani Akali Dal, the country's second oldest political party, on Thursday got its youngest president when 45-year-old Sukhbir Singh Badal was unanimously elected to the post.
Badal Junior, as he is known in political circles in Punjab, took over reigns of the ruling party, which was founded in 1920, from his ageing father Parkash Singh Badal, the chief minister of the state. Badal Senior has been designated patron-in-chief of the party.
A formal announcement was made at a meeting of the Akali Dal general body held at the Teja Singh Samundri hall of the Golden Temple complex in this Sikh holy city Thursday.
Sukhbir's name was proposed by veteran Akali leader Ranjit Singh Brahmpura and seconded by Cooperation Minister Kanwaljit Singh. Other top Akali leaders also endorsed his election.
"It is a big responsibility on my shoulders that party leaders have placed on me. I will strive to make the party stronger. We will change the trend of Punjab electing Akalis and the Congress after every five years. We will see that the Akali Dal remains in power for 25 years," Sukhbir said.
The new Akali Dal president touched the feet of top Akali leaders, including some who had been running for the post themselves, and sought their blessings.
"I am like their son. I will need their blessings in running the party," Sukhbir said.
But Parkash Singh Badal will continue to remain chief minister even though the move to elevate Sukhbir as party president is being openly seen as the last step before he is made chief minister.
"There is no question of my retirement as of now. Politicians retire only when they die. I am a soldier and will continue to fight. The party has given me a lot. I have to run the chief ministership," said 81-year-old Badal senior, laughing off the speculation that Sukhbir was all set to succeed him as chief minister too.
Making things smoother for Sukhbir in future, the Akali Dal general house also decided to give the new president a five-year term instead of the earlier three-year term.
Sukhbir, a sitting MP from the Faridkot constituency in Punjab, was made working president of the Akali Dal April last year after the party came to power in the state with the help of ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in March.
The step to elevate Sukhbir as party president is seen as a move by the Akalis to get him to become chief minister within this year - ahead of the Lok Sabha elections due next year. Punjab has 13 Lok Sabha seats.
The BJP, whose leaders had earlier shown resentment to the promotion of Sukhbir by the Akalis as their next top leader, welcomed his elevation as party president.
"We are happy at this development. The second generation of the Akali leadership is taking over. It will infuse new blood in the party. This is very good," BJP leader and Local Bodies Minister Manoranjan Kalia said.