As Punjab gets into a high gear of electioneering, Assitant Editor Chitleen K Sethi takes a sneak peek at backroom strategists spearheading the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal’s gameplan to retain the power for third term.
Sukhbir Singh Badal, 54
Battling an anti-incumbency of two terms in power, Shiromani Akali Dal president and deputy chief minister Sukhbir is consummately busy in plotting his strategy for the 2017 assembly elections to pull off what he is cocksure of: a historic hat-trick. The daunting challenge of a resurgent Congress and a determined AAP will test his reputation as a brilliant election manager who is infinitely better-resourced than his rivals. His wife and a clutch of loyalists form the crucial cogs in his formidable election machine.
Harsimrat Kaur Badal, 48
Sukhbir’s wife with whom he shares more than pillow talk. Savvy in charmed circles of power and humbly native among the rural folks, the mother-of-three and Union minister is a crucial link between the SAD and its sometimes-prickly ally, the BJP. She brings a mix of grassroots politics and a hard-nosed pragmatism to all pre-poll strategic decisions and development priorities, particularly on the Badal family’s political turf.
Bikram Singh Majithia, 41
Sukhbir’s powerful brother-in-law, but more like a brother-in-arms. Sukhbir’s first and most trusted sounding board on critical decisions on party and government, and their execution. Known for an eye for detail and his organising skills, he commands a phalanx of Akali youth foot soldiers and cheerleaders. Also, an aggressive practitioner of media management and political maneuvers.
The spin master
Harcharan Singh Bains, 66
A long-time loyalist of the House of Badals, particularly the senior Badal, the former English professor is a walking encyclopedia on Sikh affairs and historical perspective. A spin master par excellence, a man of ideas and a stickler for politeness, he brings intellectual energy to strategy brainstorms. Has a penchant for social media slugfests and self-promotion. Notorious for his long disappearance acts that even bristle the Badals.
Ajay Mahajan, 56
An additional principal secretary to Sukhbir, he is a core member of the policy-setting clique. The one-time official of industries department guides his master on social engineering in balancing the Dalhi-Jat-Bania combinations. Acts as an interlocutor with business houses and moneybags, and gets Sukhbir critical inputs from different departments.
Naresh Gujral, 68
A Rajya Sabha MP, he fiercely espouses the Akali voice in Delhi, both in Parliament and the national media. Known for his calm temperament and high intellect, he liaisons with BJP’s central leadership and brings critical inputs to the high-strategy sessions of the Akalis.
Manjinder Singh Sirsa, 43
The well-off general secretary of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) is the key link between top planners and the executing teams. Has a state minister’s rank and enjoys close confidence of the Badal clan. He oversees the party’s cash-rich advertisement campaign, runs a parallel print media cell, and revels in taking the fight up a notch.
Rabindra Narayan, 51
Top honcho at the Badal-owned PTC network, Narayan handles the Akalis’ electronic-media strategy and keeps a hawk’s eye on critical channels using advertisements in his carrot-and-stick policy. As Sukhbir’s trusted aide, he focuses on the SAD supremo’s projection through live telecasts and carefully-sanitised news and studio discussions. He will play a crucial role in amplifying Sukhbir’s high-octane campaign.
Daljit Singh Cheema, 54
Cabinet minister and ardent loyalist, doctor-turned-politician is the party’s and the Badals’ all-season troubleshooter on tricky political and Sikh issues. Affable and accessible, he is a vital link between the government and SGPC. He plays the key role wooing Panthic bodies.