With his victory in an assembly by-election almost a foregone conclusion, Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal could be heading to re-claim the high profile job of Punjab's deputy chief minister in the near future.
Sukhbir Badal is contesting the by-election to the Jalalabad assembly seat from the border district of Ferozepur and he is almost certain to get elected. Polling in the by-election to this and two other assembly seats (Banur and Kahnuwan) will be held Monday (Aug 3).
Badal junior was forced to quit the post earlier in July as he could not fulfil the constitutional requirement of getting elected to the assembly within six months of being sworn in as a minister in the Punjab government.
He was inducted in the government headed by his father and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal Jan 21 this year. The induction ceremony, held specially in Sikh holy city Amritsar, cost the government over Rs 10 million (Rs 1 crore) of public money in direct expenses.
The cost of hosting dignitaries, leaders from other states, ministers, legislators, officials and others arriving for the function from Punjab and other states was several times higher.
Sukhbir was straightaway elevated as deputy chief minister in Badal senior's government, superseding several Akali Dal leaders.
Even alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had been staking its claim to the deputy chief minister's post since March 2007 when the Badal government assumed office, was ignored while Badal junior got the post.
The portfolios that Sukhbir Badal held during his five-month stay in office, including the crucial home department, information and public relations and sports ministry, have been kept by the chief minister since Sukhbir's resignation. This is a clear signal that Badal junior will be re-inducted into the cabinet.
The Badal government has two years and seven months to go before the next assembly poll in Punjab in Feb-March 2012.
Akali Dal leaders confirmed that Sukhbir was likely to return to his post once he is elected.
"Whether in the party (Akali Dal) or the government, it is he (Sukhbir) who calls the shots. His being part of the government makes his functioning more effective," a senior Akali Dal leader told IANS.
Chief Minister Badal has left it to Sukhbir to decide if and when he wants to rejoin the Punjab government.
When he was made second-in-command in his father's government, Sukhbir's elevation was the first instance in India's political history where a father-son duo held the top two jobs in a government at the same time.
This was followed by Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi when he designated his son MK Stalin, who was already a minister in the state government, as his deputy chief minister May this year.
Badal's government has his nephew Manpreet Badal as finance minister, son-in-law Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon as food and supplies minister and relative Janmeja Singh Sekhon as irrigation minister.
Another relative, Sukhbir's brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia, had quit as a cabinet minister in January this year to pave the way for Sukhbir's induction. Sukhbir's wife, Harsimrat Kaur, is the Akali Dal member of Parliament from Bathinda.