A Media-Friendly CM —Baljit Balli Editor, Babushahi.com
Portraying the personality-cult of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is quite difficult. His punctuality in meetings, official and non-official, graceful attitude to everyone and his qualities of head and heart are matchless and unparalleled which makes him unique and different in the class of politicians.
I recall a small incident pertaining to his previous tenure as chief minister during 1997-2000. I was in Ajit Daily at that time. Barjinder Singh, Managing Editor of Ajit, sent me some important documents with a message to personally handover the same to Mr Badal . Proceeding with the mission I contacted Badal’s OSD Hardeep Singh to seek an appointment. After a few minutes I got a call from Hardeep Singh fixing the time as 11 AM the next morning.
As per schedule, I reached Chief Minsiter’s official residence and Hardeep Singh made me sit in the waiting room after telling that Badal Saheb is busy with some important meeting. I engrossed myself in newspapers and by the time principal secretary to CM Ramesh Inder Singh stepped in. He just stopped and after exchanging courtesies casually asked me about my visit. I told him the purpose and said that CM may not be aware about your engagement.
Ramesh Inder Singh again went inside the meeting and perhaps informed the CM about me. Surprisingly, Mr Badal came out without the shoes and took me to a room on the side. It was clear that CM was not in fact properly briefed about my visit.
After sharing usual respect I handed over the documents given by Barjinder Singh. Badal repeatedly felt apologetic and I felt rather ashamed to see how a person with a towering political stature is talking with utmost humility. After this he again went to the meeting hall.
Since 1997 to date whenever I had to meet him relating to journalistic assignments or for personal work I always met with a fixed appointment. It never happened whenever he gave time and did not meet. In case some changes were required in time then his personal staff was informed well in advance. He has institutionalised a very efficient and responsive administrative system in his office, which is in fact an institution in itself and a learning centre for others. It seems every person (even his political opponents and critics) can learn a lot about social dealings from his lifestyle and personality.
During the long political career I saw some change in Badal Sahab’s attitude for once only when his brother Gurdas Badal and Nephew Manpreet Badal seperated their ways his wife Surinder Kaur left for her heavenly abode . But this was a temporary phase of a change in his life.
Broadmindedness in dealings with media
It is a wellknown fact that Badal has always showed broadmindedness towards media during his long political innings. This event I am going to relate also happened during 1997-2000 SAD-BJP government. Badal got ill and had to go the USA for treatment. No specific information about the type of ailment was given neither by the government nor the Akali Dal or Badal ’s family circle.
It was all rumours and different assessments in political circles and media. It was general impression that Badal is suffering from liver cancer. The political opponents within the party and outside were feeling happy and openly spreading the rumours that Badal may return alive or not. During this political muddle and rumour mongering environment one senior Journalist even wrote in his columns attributing it to sources, “Hun taan Badal Sahab da taaboot hee wapis aaega ” (Now Badal will return his coffin only)
Luckily, Badal Sahab recovered well after treatment. A press conference was held at the airport after his arrival. Badal Sahab alighted from the plane hale and hearty with a smiling face. During interaction with the media some journalists raised some questions about the cold war within the party with Jathedar Tohra Singh and Badal Sahab just put his view point. A journalist immediately pointed out that the media reports in this regard are in different tone. Responding to this, Badal Sahab in a humorous way said, “Dekho ji tussi tan jo marji likhon, tuhanu tan likkhan di azadi hai. Tusi tan mere bare ae be likh ditta si ke mera taaboot hi wapis ayega ”. Then he pointed out to the journalist who manufactured this news item about the coffin. “Kyun ji mai tuhanu taaboot lagdan han ”. There was a slight stringent attitude but there was nothing like anger or arrogance on his face. After that Badal Sahab neither kept all these writings or adverse feelings of his opponents in his mind nor did he any disrespect to the concerned journalist or other.
From all this I reached the conclusion that Badal Sahab never reacted to the criticism by his political opponents or in media circles. He always analysed media reports and comments and only gave his version after a thorough analytical enquiry. During the last two decades whenever I write anything condemning performance of the Government and Akali Dal he never took it to heart and also never asked me why I have written the harsh lines in the column.
In case some good piece is written he always appreciates it during my meeting with him and just makes me realise about the sting writings in a humorous way.
In 1999 during Khalsa Tricentenary celebrations at Shri Anadpur Saheb I wrote some comments and suggestions in my column in Tirschinazar in Ajit Daily. To my surprise I got a call from the chief minister’s residence. Badal Sahab on phone said, “Tushi ji bahut wadiya likhya hai ” (you have written very well). But it has a little impact on thought process of the people. I got such calls early in the morning from Badal Sahab appreciating the content in my columns.
Reservation of Newspaper Clippings:-
Badal Sahab has developed a special love of preserving news clippings and other news material published in newspapers and magazines. Badal was in jail during days of terrorism in Punjab he was confined to a forest rest house near Dehradun after notifying it as a jail. At the time of his release from jail I and Ajit Photographer TS Bedi were deputed for the coverage of the event. We got enough time to spend and intract with Mr Badal when we were inside we saw that big size registers were put on the baggage being packed in matalic boxes I just asked with curiosity about the registers it was a big surprise for me when I was told that important news paper clippings have been pasted inside these registers. Besides, a pair of pigeons were part of the showing Badal’s love for birds. Similarly a kitchen garden was also developed by Badal in the temporarily jail premises. Despite his hectic political life Badal maintained cool and passed humorous comments even in day to day busy life. During the reception ceremony of the marriage of Bikram Singh Majithia I encountered with his pleasing comment about my Punjabi Kurta made of silky cloth mentioning, “Aaj Kurta wada wadia paya hai tusi, mainu bhi liya deo eho jeha ” (You are wearing a beautiful Kurta, arrange one for me also”
Parkash Singh Badal is one of such few politicians of the country, who have evolved and emerged with more strength and power after every crises. Badal is visionary as during my last three interviews whenever I asked him about his biggest achievements, he gave a consistent reply that “the maintenance of peace, communal harmony and brotherhood in Punjab besides continuance cross terrorist activities in the neighbouring country of Pakistan and neighbouring state of Jammu and Kashmir”
Badal is a very shrewd politician who appears very soft but buries all his political rivalries in his heart. He reacts very ruthlessly at the right time as all his opponents who dared to challenge his supremacy, had to lose their political survival.
PUNJAB IN FAST-TRACK MODE—Swaran Salaria Chairman, State Commission for Protection of Child Rights
There are certain people in this world who are born to work for the welfare of society and Parkash Singh Badal is one of them. Whenever you go to him with your problems he welcomes you sincerely and listens to the problem and solves it instantly. I have never heard, seen or met any politician like him. There is no one like Badalsaab. When I was the incharge of Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency, I had four seats of BJP and five seats of Akali Dal. Within seven days, he gave me two rallies. First was in Pathankot, Sujanpur, where he sat for three to four hours listening to the grievances of the people.
He asked me to prepare a list and ensure the people that our government would solve all their problems in four years. Second rally was in Dinanagar. It is a backward area and we gave Mr Badal a list of 45 problems and he solved all the problems. I don’t think there is any such Chief Minister who works for the people of the state in such a detailed manner. I understand that the government has its own hurdles but Badalsaab is one of those rare people who only think about society and not for himself. I pray to God that he gives his more and more time to the people so that he can finish all the incomplete tasks that he has wished to do.
This is for the first time that Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiromani Akali Dal government has prepared an elaborate plan for five power plants, which will supply 11,000 MW electricity. Punjab is having 7,000 MW electricity and we are getting 4,000 MW from outside. The major problem of Punjab was electricity as all the industrialists and farmers used to complain about eight to nine-hour power cuts. And now electricity will be available 24×7 to all whether it be a commercial premise or residential one.
“BADAL IS WORKAHOLIC”—Barjinder Singh Hamdard, Chief Editor, Daily Ajit
Being the editor of the oldest daily Ajit in Pun jab, how do you visualise the vision of Badalsaab in Punjab?
Parkash Singh Badal is a prominent personality of Punjab. And whatever reputation he has earned is due to his hard work. He has earned credibility over decades. And today I find that he is the only person in Punjab who is very popular among common people as well as all the circles—critical, social and others. He has gained acceptability for himself. This is what I find him today.
Basically he is a nationalist and he feels for Punjabi identity in national perspective. Because he feels like that he inherits a great history of Sikhs. Sikhs had undergone a lot of struggle. Sikhs contributed a lot as far as the freedom movement of India is concerned. And I feel and that Mr Badal gets a lot of pride out of that. So I think his thinking is not narrow. He sees every problem in nationalist perspective. He is very popular in Indian politics.
You say that he is a mass leader but the whole life he has been involved with Sikh politics.
He is an Akali at the core of his heart. But he is not narrow-minded. He feels proud of his community which has done a lot for the country. But as far as his thinking is concerned, he thinks for the people of Punjab.
You told that Parkash Singh Badal is the pride of Punjab, so how can a common man feel it?
I think that he always thinks and plans for the common man. He knows the pulse of the people. Because most of the time, he is with the common man. Many a time he tells us how the people live in villages. There are so many problems and how they can be solved. He goes to the needy people. He listens to them. I am not much in favour of what he holds as a durbar. But I feel that he gets a feedback from the people. He tries to solve the local as well as the district problems.
As an editor, you have covered him for the last four decades. What are the shortcomings that you find in him?
He has the ability to win elections for his party but to be popular and win the election are different things and to run the administration is also a different thing. He is not a very good administrator. Because when it comes to governance, administration is the basic thing. To run the government and deliver the goods you have to be good at the administration. You can have the popular policies but you cannot draw much out of those. The policies of the government should be such that they should influence all the sections of society. I feel that as far as the administration is concerned, he lacks the ability in that field.
Like Congress, Punjab also has a dynasty culture. What is your comment on that? Do you think that our democracy suffers this way?
Yes I am totally in favour of the fact that democracy is the first victim of the dynasty politics. If you don’t give a chance to everybody, democracy is going to suffer. Because in dynastic culture, sons don’t have that spark in them and they have not established their credibility. This is what I feel. It is the weakness of most of our leaders. Dynasty culture is not in right direction and nationalist leaders should not follow this line.
But does it influence the cadres?
Yes of course. They are demoralised. Most of the cadres think that this kind of thing should not be there but they are helpless and they can’t do anything. In Akali politics every leader has propped up his son, his relatives and this is not a good omen for Punjab. I feel strongly about this.
Can you tell me something about this BJP-Akali alliance?
I see one very positive point in this alliance—there is communal harmony in Punjab. Everybody feels that he is living in a society with his own faith. But the situation is that BJP and Akali can’t win election and get majority on their own. As in India you can see that the alliance is there, but no party is getting majority on its own. So in Punjab, these parties can’t get majority on their own.
On the one hand Badalsaab is a mass leader, on the other he is not able to get majority. What is the reason behind this?
There are many reasons. Congress had its own credit during this period because of the nationalist politics. The majority of backward classes followed Congress policies because of Gandhi and Nehru, and after that they formed their own parties for their own existence. So the common man is divided between the party faith. That is the reason they can’t get the majority.
I spoke to many grassroots level cadres of BJP and they are very much dissatisfied with this government led by Akali and they are not getting fast end support from the government.
The coordination, i.e. the working and the policy-making, is not perfect between the two parties. Every leader has his own agenda. If there is no perfect coordination, the grassroots workers will naturally be dissatisfied because they might think that the Akalis are dominating the scene in framing policies. But in recent times, I feel both the Akalis and BJP are trying to have a better coordination.
Why has Congress become so unpopular that Badal won again?
Because of Mr Amarinder Singh. He can’t feel the pulse of the people. He has no time for the common man as far as Punjab is concerned. He can’t get along with the Congress leaders. There is dissention among them. There is no discipline. Even the smallest solution to a problem comes from Delhi. There is no charismatic leadership in the state. The party is discouraged, as Congress has a habit of ruling. It is in its culture. If it does not rule, it gets disturbed, and demoralised. The central leadership has no time to concentrate on Punjab matters. There are central policies towards Punjab which do not encourage Congressmen. They are squeezed. This is what I feel.
The country has Prime Minister from Punjab, whose graph is going down day-by-day in the matter of development of the country. And the graph of Mr Badal is going up day-by-day. Do you foresee that being a senior leader of NDA, Mr Badal can play a bigger role in Delhi?
I don’t think so because basically Mr Badal thinks he belongs to the state of Punjab. He can play his role better in Punjab than that in Delhi. So in the core of his heart, he is not enthusiastic about moving to Delhi. If one doesn’t have a penchant for Delhi, one can’t deliver goods in Delhi. He went to Delhi as an agricultural minister once but he was not comfortable there. He came back. So I don’t think he can play a bigger role in Delhi. He is not interested at all.
What do you think about Mr Badal as a person?
He is very busy but he is a very good man. A common man can meet him with minimum efforts. He is accessible. Most of our leaders when they come to a position are inaccessible to their colleagues also like Mr Amarender Singh. There is no such complaint about Parkash Singh Badal that people can’t meet him. He works every day; he meets thousands of people and he doesn’t get tired of that. He is very workaholic. His only concentration is on Punjab and his people. He has no interest other than going around, seeing and meeting people. He doesn’t lead a lavish life. He is very simple and kind hearted. These are his personal qualities. For a common man, these are great qualities that make him popular.
A KEEN OBSERVER—Balaram Das Tandon, Senior BJP Leader, Punjab
I know Sardar Parkash Singh Badal very closely. We have worked together as MLAs, as ministers and even when he was Chief Minister three times. Our relation is very deep. Even at the time of Emergency, which lasted for 19 months in Punjab and the whole country, we were behind bars together. He was put behind bars many times for various agitations under the guidance of Akali Dal. He led those agitations in Punjab. So he had been sent to jail many times.
We started our political voyage so to say in 1957. I was elected on Jana Sangh ticket from Amritsar which is my home town. I was born there and was educated there. My entire childhood belongs to that place. And Sardar Badal Singh was elected on Congress ticket at that time under a pact between the Akali party and the Congress party. So during the assembly sessions, we used to sit together. Although he was on Congress ticket, he always spoke against the wrong policies of the government even being a member of that party. We were in the opposition and it was our responsibility to highlight the failures of the Congress government at that time.
We had developed friendship and our relations were healthy. In 1970, he became the CM. I at that time being a leader of the Jana Sangh group had joined hands with him and I was his second man in the Cabinet and we worked together three times, one is from 1970 to 1971, again we worked from 1977-80 as leader of the Janata Party group and third time I was together as the leader of the BJP group in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha.
At least once a week, we used to sit together. He would not ask his officer to talk to me, he would talk to me directly whenever he wanted to sit with me and discuss some problems with me. After consulting and discussing the matter with me, whatever action was required he would call all the persons concerned and put across his thinking regarding the action to be taken.
He is a keen observer. He would open his door to one and all whoever came to meet him with any problem. He is available to them. Even at this age he holds at least once a week session where he would sit for an hour or two and listen to people’s grievances and all officers of the district happen to be standing nearby. He would ask them to take care of their problems. When fund is required from the Central government, he will approach himself. He does not hesitate to call upon any central minister.
He is a broad-minded person and he never differentiates between the people on the basis of cast, creed, religion, etc. He would like the work of any person or community to get done. However, sometimes the people working for the opposition party fling stories that personally he is a Sikh-oriented person. But so far as I have observed him keenly, he is not a person with blinkered thinking. He is a true nationalist. He has made sure that there are no terrorist activities in Punjab. As a CM he stands upright to face all the situations. He is very keen for the development of the state. Under his leadership, state has taken many rapid steps towards proper development. I am confident that Punjab will once again emerge as No. 1 as far as per capita income is concerned.