By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, (IANS) His CV reads something like this: five-time chief minister, one of the seniormost political leaders in the country, widely networked, respected and acceptable to most parties barring the Congress.
In the run-up to the presidential poll at the national level, as several names are being proposed for the country’s top constitutional job, 84-year-old Parkash Singh Badal, the Punjab Chief Minister and the Shiromani Akali Dal patron, could emerge as the dark horse for the vice presidential election.
With a staunch ally in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and being on one-on-one terms with the entire leadership of the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the chances of Badal emerging as a consensus candidate of the NDA for the vice president’s post are termed as “high”.
Badal also enjoys personal rapport with some top leaders of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government like National Conference leader and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and others.
However, Badal and his party are refraining from saying anything on his chances for the vice presidential elections.
“The Akali Dal will go with whatever the BJP decides. We will follow them. I am not talking about myself,” Badal said.
His son and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal too remained non-committal on the issue.
“The issue has not been discussed with the NDA yet,” Sukhbir Badal said here.
Bada had spent nearly 17 years of his life in jails as a political prisoner – booked for civil liberty agitation, sent to jail during Emergency (1975-77) and put in prison during the ‘Dharam Yudh Morcha’ days of Punjab in the 1980s, fighting for the rights of Punjab and its people.
Badal began his record fifth term as chief minister in March this year as his son and heir-apparent Sukhbir, who is also Punjab’s deputy chief minister, led the party from the front in the assembly elections and created history in Punjab’s politics by ensuring a second term for the Akali Dal-BJP government.
No government had been returned to power for a second consecutive term in Punjab in over 45 years and the Akali Dal, which is all about the Badal father-son duo, achieved that.
Badal became the youngest chief minister of Punjab in 1969, at the age of 43, even though his government lasted only a few months. He had a brief stint as a union minister in 1977 before becoming chief minister again (1977-80).
During the years of Sikh militancy in Punjab (1981-95), Badal remained in political wilderness for over a decade.
Badal courted controversy during one of the agitations when he publicly tore the constitution of India. He apologised for the action years later. Ironically, he has taken oath as chief minister five times, owing allegiance to the same constitution.
He returned as chief minister with a thumping majority in 1997. Ousted in the 2002 assembly polls and facing corruption cases with other family members and associates, Badal remained undeterred.
With the Akali Dal-BJP alliance, he romped home to power in 2007 to become chief minister for the fourth time. It was during this tenure that he let son Sukhbir take control of the Akali Dal and the government.
Sukhbir was made Akali Dal president in 2008 and elevated as deputy chief minister in 2009. As of today, Sukhbir is the most powerful man in the government and the party and Badal senior looks happy and satisfied watching his son’s political growth.
Married to Surinder Kaur, who died last year from cancer, the couple has two children – son Sukhbir and daughter Preneet. Badal’s daughter-in-law (Sukhbir’s wife), Harsimrat Badal, is the Lok Sabha MP from Bathinda. His son-in-law (daughter’s husband), Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon, is a minister in his government.
A simple man with strong wit and coming from a landed, agricultural family of Punjab, Badal is among the richest politicians in the country.