In his early twenties, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, the son of a famous Punjabi ballad singer (Kavishar), Karnail Singh Paras, used to cycle down from village to village accompanying his father, singing ballads.
Years later, he exploited his family profession to serenade his way into power politics. His gift of the gab and an uncanny sycophantic skill helped him get close to different leaders and ideologies during his political career spanning half a century.
From being a close confidant of then Shiromani Akali Dal president and Dharam Yudh Morcha dictator Harchand Singh Longowal, during the tumultuous ’80s, to his ascent to the union cabinet in the United Front government in the ’90s, Ramoowalia has made it all despite having no political or electoral base in Punjab or anywhere else. He was among a handful of senior Akali leaders arrested from the Golden Temple during Operation Bluestar.
‘SIBERIAN MIGRATORY BIRD HAS FLOWN’
Those who know 73-year-old Ramoowalia’s opportunistic ways of climbing the political ladder were hardly taken aback by his latest jump to the Samajwadi Party government. His arch rival and Congress MLA Balbir Singh Sidhu put it succinctly, calling him “a Siberian migratory bird who has flown to greener pastures”.
SAD leaders were the first to get wind of Ramoowalia’s hobnobbing with his old colleague and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. But on his denial last week, the party even issued a statement scotching “rumours” on Ramoowalia’s exit.
Once a self-proclaimed dyed-in-the-wool Akali, Ramoowalia had returned to the SAD fold in 2011 after 22 years. Way back in 1989 when SAD was in choppy waters, he sensed a political cul-de-sac and dumped the party. Using his proximity with CPM leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet, he charmed his way to top political circles in Delhi. Being a Sikh face and a consummate flatterer helped him cosy up with Leftists as well as the Third Front. The VP Singh government made him vice-chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, a position he held for six years.
BIG BREAK IN ’96
But his big break came in 1996 when he was inducted into to the HD Deve Gowda-led union cabinet as social welfare and labour minister. For six months, he was without the membership of any of the two Houses – Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. Five days before the expiry of the mandatory requirement, Samajwadi Party nominated him to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh. He continued in the Union cabinet till 1999 even with IK Gujral as PM who gave him the portfolio of food and consumer affairs.
His political fortunes took a downturn after the collapse of the Third Front. Fancying himself as a Third Front in Punjab politics, he floated the Lok Bhalai Party in 1997 and also donned the role of crusader of the rights of Punjabi brides dumped by their NRI husbands. His publicity-grabbing help for NRIs earned him goodwill abroad, but failed to translate into any electoral gains in Punjab. Frustrated, he returned to the SAD fold in 2011. The home coming was with an eye on the revival of his sagging political standing.
SIKH FACE IN UP
He contested the 2012 assembly elections but lost. He was taken as member of the SAD core committee and made incharge of SAS Nagar constituency. The party obliged him by making his daughter chairperson of the district planning board, but didn’t warm up to his overtures for a “bigger role” – in other words, a ticket to the Rajya Sabha. What added to his desperation was the way he failed to get the party to the victory pedestal in the first municipal corporation polls in SAS Nagar.
Finally, finding the SAD’s political graph in free fall and slim chances of getting an Akali ticket in the 2017 assembly polls, Ramoowalia did what he has been doing best — grab the opportunity.