Guest column: Badal legacy; Grace and dignity vs politics of hate
There was always an air of calm reassurance and natural respect even among his opponents as he would rise to speak in the Vidhan Sabha
Almost a year has passed since Punjab’s first and, up to now, the last man of the masses left us. This span is long enough to reflect on what we lost on April 25 this year when he breathed his last. And I am not even talking here about the deep personal loss that many of us felt in his passing away.
As we remember the stalwart on his birth anniversary (December 8), what’s more important and relevant for Punjab and the country today is that even those bitterly opposed to him in politics are already beginning to miss the air of sobriety, culture and political & social sanity that Mr Parkash Singh Badal symbolised. There was always an air of calm reassurance and natural respect even among his opponents as he would rise to speak in the Vidhan Sabha. That is how politics deserves to be conducted.
It’ll be interesting and even instructive to see if the present generation of politicians and intellectuals can rise above their personal prejudices, for the good of the state and its people, and evaluate his legacy and its relevance as a possible option to stem the rot in the political discourse around us. This is an atmosphere in which it has become impossible to differ with anyone without inviting hostile enmity. This was just the demon that Mr Badal’s persona had laid to rest.
The man and his lasting legacy
It’s a tribute to the nature and stature of the man that he makes it possible for us to gauge his legacy even without having to agree with him politically. This legacy has a lasting relevance for his opponents, even more than for his followers. None of those who opposed him politically or even vented visceral personal hatred against him can remember even a single hateful word coming from him against them – not even during his worst hours.
More importantly, in doing so, he never had to compromise on his political convictions or to sacrifice his own or his party’s political interests.
And I am not investing him with any saintly aura here. In fact, as a successful politician who strode the Punjab landscape as an unmatched political colossus, he was an extremely astute and sharp and could easily outwit his opponents. But his style and persona ensured that he could achieve all this without abandoning or even lowering his moral and intellectual refinement. He represented a political culture which never required a hit below the belt to beat his opponents.
The strategic aspect of Mr Badal’s politics
I would often routinely ask him the most hackneyed question:
“What is the secret of your political success and longevity?” And he was never dishonest or pretentiously self-righteous in his reply. Translated into English, It meant that he could anticipate the next move of his opponents even before they had planned it because he would focus on where their vested interests lay.
This was the strategic aspect of his politics. But what is of relevance to politics and politicians of today is his ability to come on top without resorting to hatred, spleen or vulgarity in his political idiom. Regardless of what happened or no matter how low his opponents stooped to target him, Mr Badal never let go of dignity, culture and class. For someone who had watched Mr Badal never starting his day without his daily Gurbani recitation and a prayer before the Guru Granth Sahib, the wanton allegations hurled against him were truly painful.
Despite this, even in my most private conversations with Mr Badal, I never saw a word escape his lips that was either bitter or below his dignity or which negated the Sikh religious ethos.
An icon of peace and inter-faith harmony
There is a lot I could write about Mr Badal’s contribution to the preservation and promotion of humanitarian and cosmic ethos of the Khalsa Panth, or about how he could reconcile explosive contradictions and hostilities in a communally surcharged Punjab and emerge as a natural icon of peace and inter-faith harmony – one in whose presence even the most bitter communal hostilities melted into brotherhood, compassion and communal bonhomie which Punjab symbolises. Or I could easily demonstrate how almost every developmental goalpost in Punjab carries his signatures.
All this is important. But what Punjab truly needs right now to recall are two aspects of Mr Badal’s public and personal life: One, how he steered Punjab out of bitter hate and confrontation and effortlessly turned it into an oasis of peace based on social and political consensus. And second, his sobering and warmly affectionate aura which he exuded even in bitterly competitive political arena. This is what Punjab is sure to miss today and this is what his party needs to revive and recreate.
The Akali Dal would do well to remember today that their tallest leader was the first and so far the last to demonstrate that one does not have to be ugly and vulgar in order to achieve enduring success in public life. In fact, he symbolised quite the opposite of this – that culture and refinement ensure true success and longevity in public life.
(The author, a freelance writer, was a long-time adviser and confidant of Late S Parkash Sigh Badal )