Sukhbir strikes emotional chord, raises pro-Punjab, ‘Panthic’ pitch - Hindustan Times

Sukhbir strikes emotional chord, raises pro-Punjab, ‘Panthic’ pitch

By, Chandigarh
May 30, 2024 06:30 AM IST

Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal is using all his might to improve the prospects of his party by trying to reach out to as many people as possible.

With his father, Parkash Singh Badal, no longer by his side to guide and support him, and his party seeming to have lost its sheen, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal knows that the 2024 Lok Sabha elections are set to be extra challenging. Not one to give up easily, Sukhbir is using all his might to improve the prospects of his party by trying to reach out to as many people as possible.

Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal.

“We must complete six meetings before the rally in Talwandi Sabo at 1 (pm),” Sukhbir tells his aide before leaving his palatial home in Badal village. Occupying the front seat in his Land Rover Defender SUV, Sukhbir has the air-conditioner running in full blast, but it seems to be of little help given the soaring mercury – over 40 degrees Celsius-- and the election heat.

Dad’s the word

Though Sukhbir is sitting this election out, his wife and Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal is contesting the fourth consecutive election from this seat. She has won all the previous elections from Bathinda: 2009, 2014 and 2019.

Addressing a gathering of 150-plus people in Bathinda’s Bhagu village, Sukhbir invokes his father’s name. “Bapu Badal ney kinne kamm kitey, kissey nu khali hath nahhi si morr da (Badal senior used to help everyone and never used send anyone empty handed),” he says as the crowd bursts into chants of ‘Jo bole so nihal’.

Since morning, he had addressed similar meetings in Bidowali, Mann, Singhewala and Chakmidu Singh Wala villages of Lambi segment of Bathinda parliamentary seat. Akali patriarch Parkash Singh Badal had won from Lambi five times -- 1997, 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017. But he lost the 2022 elections to Aam Aadmi Party’s Gurmeet Singh Khudian, who is contesting against Harsimrat this time.

Around 12.30pm, his cavalcade sets out for Talwandi Sabo. Here, again, he tries to strike an emotional chord. “Badal saab hunn ess duniya vich nahi rehey, hunn main aya haan. Tussi sarey takri utey votan paa deo (Badal saab is not alive and in his place, I have come to you, all of you please vote for the scales – SAD’s election symbol).”

It is clear that Sukhbir has a personal connect with voters here. Before he leaves, the village elders honour him with a siropa.

Development and panthic pitch

After a 40-minute drive through the dusty lanes and a highway stretch, the cavalcade halts at the Talwandi Sabo grain market.

“Sukhbir Singh Badal Zindabad,” the party workers chant as Sukhbir steps on to the dais. “This area had nothing but sand dunes. There was no water for irrigation so farmers could not grow any crop. But Badal Saab (Parkash Singh Badal) changed everything, he gave tubewell connections,” says Sukhbir, adding, “Dasso tubewell connection ditey ke nahi (Tell me has he given tubewell connections or not). People in the crowd raise their hands in agreement.

“Vote for the regional party. Shiromani Akali Dal. Your party. We are not like the others whose remote control lies in Delhi,” he says, targeting his opponents.

“Out of 15 lakh agricultural tubewell connections in Punjab, 13.5 lakh tubewells were allotted during the Akali regime,” he tells the crowd. “We built roads, highways, connected all cities, towns and villages, constructed mandis, thermal plants, dams, universities, gave shuguns, and atta-dal. Had the Akali Dal not been in power in Punjab, it would have remained a primitive state,” Sukhbir tells the crowd.

“You look at the present CM (Bhagwant Mannn) whom no one can meet while the Akali CM (Parkash Singh Badal) was accessible to everyone,” says the SAD chief.

Sukhbir also plays the panthic crowd. “In 1955, the Congress government took away Punjab’s share of river water, then they rendered us without a capital, then gave us Bluestar and riots,” he says, adding, “Remember that when you go out to vote on June 1, the day that will mark 40 years since Operation Bluestar.”

Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who has joined him in this leg of the campaign, rises to address the crowd. “What badlav (change) are they (AAP) talking about. AAP is a party of notorious people. Gangsterism and drugs rose under them. Except for regional party, no one else can work for Punjab and Punjabis,” she tells the crowd.

After this meeting, the team halts for a quick lunch and then proceeds to Bathinda where the local leadership has organised a rally at Gandhi Market. By the time the day’s events are over, it’s already 8.30pm. The convoy heads back to Badal village for a night halt before another hectic day of campaigning.

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