Panthic Patriarch: His simplicity is infectious and his persona an enduring enigma. Five-time CM Parkash Singh Badal, grand old man of Punjab’s power politics, prides himself on ‘playing straight politics’. But his critics call him the most-shrewd player, apt at either dodging or decimating his rivals.These qualities have helped him set the ground for the first dynasty in the 93-year-old Shiromani Akali Dal, with anointment of his son, deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, as his heir apparent.
Ageing but agile, Badal, who turns 86 today, doesn’t show signs of fatigue. Known for his penchant for subtlety and holding back more than revealing, Badal was, for a change, direct and reflective while answering a range of political and personal questions in a conversation with Senior Resident Editor Ramesh Vinayak and Punjab Bureau Chief Pawan Sharma. Excerpts
How did you get into politics?
Much before I entered the political arena, our family was already into politics, which then used to be limited to a constituency. Slowly, its ambit started widening. It’s difficult to recall when I contested the first assembly election…I became the youngest MLA then. Actually, I had no political ambitions. But circumstances were such that one thing led to another.
When did you become a sarpanch?
I don’t remember. But it happened soon after I graduated from the Lahore college. Villagers said I should become a sarpanch. I refused as I had no experience. But they prevailed and I became one. I also remained chairman of the block samiti. Later, I became an MLA, a minister and the chief minister.
You stepped into Punjab politics in the 60s. What is the difference between Punjab of then and of now?
Dekhoo jee, udon Punjab kucchh hor taran da si, mera matlab udon lokan vich satisfaction bhi si, insaniyat bhi better si. Hun to hor taran daa ho gaya. Hun to saudebaji ji chaldi hegi. Hun naa to koi khush hai, bas sara din paisa-paisa…ehi chalda rehnda hai.
How has politics changed since – for better or for worse?
Then, leaders emerged after an intense struggle. Now, blessings of the party matter.
Was politics more principled then?
Yes. Udo jayada si.
Why this deterioration now?
Society is also deteriorating. I read in HT today that India’s rank in corruption is 94. Corruption was less then. Now it is on the rise among politicians, bureaucracy and the public. Jitthe kiseda da lagda hai, o hatda hi ni.
How do you define your politics?
I have been an obedient worker of the party, never betrayed it. These days, people turn rebel if denied the ticket. Utmost sincerity to the party, following its discipline and decisions without flinching is vital. With dogged determination and like a loyal soldier, accomplish the task given by the party.
Let me give you an example. Our party had decided to tear off the copies of the Article 25 of the Constitution in Delhi. Though personally I wasn’t for it, I did it to honour the party direction. Giani Zail Singh was the President. He called me and asked if I could avoid this. I told him it was a party decision and he should rather contact Akali Dal chief Sant Harchand Singh Longowal.
What’s the secret of your political longevity?
A political mistake can cut short careers. Due to political mistakes, leaders lost their lives. Where was the need for Rajiv Gandhi to send army (to Sri Lanka), Indira Gandhi…I don’t want to go into the details. Politics is like the game of snakes-and-ladders. One wrong move can bring you down.
I played straight politics and not chalaaki wali. I never aspired to become the chief minister. There was a time when no one thought an Akali would become the CM. You need luck, blessings of the Almighty.
How has the character of the Shiromani Akali Dal changed – from the morcha politics to a moderate, Punjabi party?
Times have changed. Earlier, our party struggled for Punjab and now the fight is to form the government. We fought the British…Post-1947,we fought the Congress for the sake of Punjab. We fought the Emergency which increased the respect for the Akali Dal across the country.
But the Congress always painted a wrong picture of the Akali Dal. We were dubbed as separatists and militant. The secularism and socialism which people now talk about is at the root of teachings of Sikh gurus which the Akali Dal follows in letter and spirit.
You have spent almost an equal number of years in jail and as CM. How did the events between 1980 and 1993 affect you?
I never considered going to jail as a sacrifice. It was a duty towards the party. It’s the duty of a fauji to fight. I was never scared of going to jail. Har morche te sabton pahle main giraftari ditti hai.
But, at one time, in the 90s, your political career looked in the doldrums.
Dekho ji, kadi mehsoos ni kitta kee bann gaye ya naa bane, struggle karni hegi, bas straight ture jao, kudrat ne appe karna jo karna.
So you are a straight talker and a straight walker.
Hanji, party di line te ture jao.
Yours is a moderate image and that of a protagonist of social harmony. When did this change come?
Shuru to hi hai ji…I was like this right from the beginning. Habits can’t be changed easily.
You are credited with turning a political alliance with the BJP into a social coalition? How did it happen?
I have never liked saude-baazi. Political parties bargain for plum portfolios. We don’t have personal enmity with the Congress. But the Congress never desisted from discriminating against Punjab.
Mein samajhda haan ki Congress da lamba regime reha hai, par unne desh daa koi bohta bhala ni kitta. People sitting at top positions in Delhi don’t even feel the plight of the poor. Their so-called pro-poor decisions are politically motivated and lack sincerity.
Is the Congress-led Centre still discriminating?
Their policies and formulas are biased. Now they are not even behaving like a national government. Central ministers come here to lay foundation stones and we are kept in the dark. They don’t even inform the state. This is a wrong trend they have started.
Why is this happening?
I don’t have an answer. The constitution’s federal system is not being followed, for small things we have to go to Delhi. Sharam di gal hegi. It’s sheer waste of time. Taa hi tarakki ni hondi. Ek tagda businessman hega, he is frustrated so much so that he told me that no one listened to him in Delhi. Now the government is not functioning at the Centre…There is no federalism.
What is the future of the Congress with Rahul Gandhi at the helm of affairs?
I don’t want to speak against anybody. Can you appoint an inexperienced person editor of a newspaper? He has never been a minister, nor does he have any administrative experience. It’s like handing over the car keys to a novice and expecting him to drive. And the result will be an accident -- car bhi gai, passenger bhi aur driver bhi. Hailing from a particular family cannot be a qualification to becoming the Prime Minister. Challi ja raha hai ji...
What are you views on Narendra Modi?
There is no other alternative before the country. In these circumstances, Modi sahib is the only choice.
How do you compare him with Atal Bihari Vajpayee?
Vajpayee sahib was a different kind of a leader. He was an ideal PM, a great human being, orator and administrator. What a unique personality!
There are reservations about Modi, especially among the minorities.
We also faced similar accusations due to false and motivated propaganda of the Congress. The Congress had created an impression that Akalis are criminal, militant. Is there anyone more secular than Akalis? The Congress left no stone unturned to blame us.
Is coalition good or bad for the country?
We have no option but to accept it. The coalition partners do misuse the situation. Single-party rule seems impossible at the Centre. The regional parties are emerging due to the anti-state policies of the Centre.
The Panthic character of Akali Dal has changed significantly since the 1996 Moga resolution.
We pray ‘…Tere bhane sarbhat da bhala…’ Akali Dal is ‘sarbat vaste’. In the cabinet of Maharaja Ranhjit Singh, the number of Hindus and Muslims with important portfolios was more than that of Sikhs. Wasn’t he a Sikh king? And, he didn’t do that for votes. We follow the principles of Sikh religion -- secularism and welfare of other communities first.
What’s the most important political lesson you have learnt so far?
Politics is for serving people. It is not a paisa kaman da ek jariya, ya koi audha len da jariya. Earlier, politics was a mission to serve people, now it has diluted.
Who decided that Sukhbir should join politics -- you, your wife or Sukhbir?
My younger brother Gurdas and I had decided that our sons would not join politics. Par chances ehe je ho gaye. It was not planned. When the Gidderbaha bypoll came, Beant Singh was the CM. I represented that seat for more than 25 years. Now no one else could have contested from that seat. Thus Manpreet was fielded. Winning byelections of Gidderbaha and Ajanala was a turning point for the Akali Dal. Similar was the case with Sukhbir.
How has Sukhbir changed since 1996?
Bahut farak hega ji. Experience teaches a lot…hun bilkul theek hega ji…He is passionate about his work, something that we lack in India. One should think about one’s objectives even in dreams. Sukhbir has that fire in the belly, that passion for his work. He wants to do this and that in spite of the fact that there are not many resources to match his ideas and ambitions to take Punjab forward. He wants to do a lot. The whole day and night, he is working with single-minded devotion.
How has Sukhbir handled the state as deputy chief minister?
Theek he ji, bilkul vadhia ji. Very good.
How does he compliment your role?
Dekho ji har taraha hi compliment karde ne. He has raised the finances of the state. On the economic front and in resource mobilisation, he has been doing a very good job.
How much political and administrative burden of yours is being shouldered by Sukhbir?
Kafi liya hai ji. Wo bahut kaam karda hai ji.
Does he come to you for advice?
Yes, often. His best trait is that he takes his job seriously. Once an idea comes to his mind he thinks about it passionately and marshals all the resources and energies to take that idea to its logical conclusion -- whether it is his passion for kabaddi, promotion of industry or infrastructure. This is his big quality.
Sukhbir says that you in politics are like a Harvard University. What’s the most important lesson you have given him?
No lesson. My habits and the way of dealing with situations will certainly leave an impression on him. Mein unoo koi kataab ta ni padhani (laughs).
Still any lesson?
I believe children automatically learn from their parents.
Any particular habit of yours which reflects in him?
First of all, this lagan wali single-mindedness, commitment; without commitment you cannot succeed.
What are you views on dynastic politics?
We may be accused of dynastic politics. If a lawyer’s son can be a lawyer, why can’t a politician’s son be a politician. But he who has to succeed must be efficient and capable of taking up the responsibility. This is important.
You are a charismatic leader, widely popular. Where do you derive your charisma from?
Oh nai ji, kuchh nai, mennu to kuchh ni pata ji. Mennu to eh bhi pata ni ke hai bhi ke nahin. Na kade bother kitta hai ki chief minister bannana…all this is the result of nature’s benevolence.
Your party now has no qualms in admitting long-time Congress leaders into its fold? Isn’t the line between SAD and the Congress blurring?
Chalda rehnda ji thoda bohot.
You are celebrating your birthday on December 8 by dedicating a power plant to Punjab.
Oh ji gal sunno, naa to menu pata hegi date of birth. Now surplus power is set to become a problem as per your paper. Karange ki?
You have given power to Punjab. When will you give absolute power to Sukhbir?
He has to decide. No, it’s the party that has to decide, not he. This time I had decided not to contest election. I have seen so much. But Sukhbir forced me into it.
How do you deal with the void created by the passing away of your wife? You must be lonely now.
Kami to betahasha hai. There used to be raunak mela when she was around. Now I am all alone from 8pm to 8am. No children...Na kissi se batt kar sakte...farak to bahut padta hai ji…Chalo ji ki kar sakde haan…She was a wonderful lady.