“You should rather interview me on International Youth Day.” That’s what the oldest among all serving chief ministers in India said when asked about his age in his most recent interview by HT. Punjab’s veteran, ageing warhorse, Parkash Singh Badal is just over a year away from his nervous 90s and is in fray for a sixth innings as CM when assembly elections take place early next year.
Born on December 8, 1927, in Abul Khurana village of Faridkot, Badal had a number of hospital visits this year alone, and was advised bedrest a couple of days ago too, but tension on the border with Pakistan after India’s strikes across the Line of Control in Kashmir got him active again.
Supporters and detractors agree that his stamina can defeat the young, hence he proudly calls himself “a young man” often, complete with a characteristic chuckle.
The sharp-witted Akali who got a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree from FC College, Lahore, in 1947-48 follows a military-like regimen. His punctuality is legendary. He doesn’t wear a watch. “Nor does he ask for the time. His sixth sense is amazing,” says one of his security officers.
But what keeps him going? Badal follows the age-old tradition of rising early. He hits the lawn at 4.30 am and devotes the first hour of the day to personal health. Before a physiotherapy session, some days he picks cycling. “Maintain a routine religiously, exercise, and pray without fail,” his aides quote him as saying. After physical fitness, next on his morning agenda is to “connect” with Waheguru (the Almighty) for an hour.
Bureaucrats talk of how they receive calls from the CM much before they have left the bed in the morning, especially if there is a negative report in the newspapers. His principal secretary SK Sandhu says, “Panic or pressure do not exist in his style of functioning.”
After back-to-back meetings interrupted only by light meals or a bowl of fruits, he ends his day by 8 pm.
“Humility is his brahmastra (ultimate strength),” says Sunil Jakhar, senior Congress leader, “He is diligent and witty; never lets any opportunity slip to put rivals on the back foot.”
When rumours were rife that he had liver cancer and had gone to the US for treatment, many reached a “foregone conclusion”. But, whether it was a fracture on the eve of the 2002 polls or former CM Capt Amarinder Singh booking him in a case of disproportionate assets case, Badal has made stunning comeback.
These days, he has to take some aides’ support while walking, but age has failed to dampen his will to fight.