The Patriarch Of Punjab
Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal, the Chief Minister of Punjab, has been a well-known name in Indian politics for the last five decades. Being a Chief Minister of Punjab for fifth time, the 85-year-old Badal is a scion of Punjab politics and has never compromised with his political philosophy. A staunch nationalist Badal has fought for the cause of Sikhism from day one when he entered politics but at the same time he ensured respect for every religion and was instrumental in preserving the glory of great Punjabi culture.
Controversies have surrounded him since 1957 but he never took a back leap in his mission to strengthen the Shiromani Akali Dal, founded by him. In his whole life Parkash Singh Badal has fought against the Congress for the interest of Punjabis and he has got enormous support from them. This time SAD has created history by re-electing and forming the government with the an alliance with the BJP.
It was Jyoti Basu who had ruled the roost in West Bengal for almost three decades. After Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya could not manage to re-gain the glory of Jyoti Basu and lost elections to Trinamool Congrerss. Similarly, Naveen Patnaik is also running the third term as the Chief Minister in Odisha and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is trying his luck to make a hat trick. Why I am discussing the other chief ministers, because all these leaders could survive to run popular non-Congress governments in their respective states. Parkash Singh Badal for the first time formed his government not with very popular votes but with the slightest margin that too with having a coalition with the BJP.
When I was travelling along the length and breadth of Punjab a week ago, I met many politicians, social activists, industrialists, opinion-makers, media persons and farmers. One really cannot make out that this SAD-BJP government is a coalition government, as one finds it difficult to get a different tune. The coordination between such a strong coalition is hardly seen in any other alliances. The people of Punjab are desperate to keep the Congress out of power, although our Prime Minister is a proud Shikh. The tainted image of the UPA government and the inflation snake has bitten the common man of Punjab very deeply.” The people don’t want a corrupt government in Punjab instead they prefer Badal Saheb’s honest government who is always ready to solve the problems of the needed people both in the rural and urban Punjab says one Anil Bharati, a small-scale industrialist from Ludhiana. Badal Saheb as an individual has a charismatic personality and he commands more popularity than other leader of the state.
Badal Saheb’s greatness are his humbleness, honesty and his whole life dedication to the cause of Punjab. Whether it be at the time of militancy in Punjab or at the time of reorganisation of states, Badal Saheb played a constructive role that the people of Punjab still remember. “Not as a Chief Minister but also as an individual Badal Saheb is one of the finest human beings and he himself is an institution,” says Dr Barjinder Singh Hamdard, editor, Ajit, a Punjabi daily published from Jalandhar.
I also spoke to Maninder Singh, a dhaba owner on the outskirts of Jalandhar city and he said: “Badal Saheb is a friend of poor farmers, economically backward people and he is really the pride of Punjabis. Everyday hundreds of Punjabis come here for food and I could tell you that everybody in Punjab barring party lines respect Badal Saheb. He is like a god for us. Under his chief ministership all Punjabis are safe.” Wherever I went people showered encomiums on Badal Saheb for his integrity, punctuality and sacrifice. While chatting with the villagers near Firojpur, I found many farmers who were enthralled to speak about their beloved Chief Minister. One Harpal Singh narrated his experience when he and other villagers last visited Badal Saheb. He informed: “The Chief Minister listened to us regarding our problems till we finished our grievance before him. Badal Saheb assured us to solve our problems that we are facing in our villages. And sir you would be surprised to know that when we reached our village, Badal had already instructed the authorities concerned to solve our problems.” That is the simplicity and greatness of Badal Saheb, that all the men and women of that villagers told me in one voice. Yes I could feel the inner voices of the poor farmers for whom the Chief Minister spares his precious moments and one can say after speaking to different sections of society that he has become the leader of the masses in Punjab in the last five decades. Badal Saheb’s colleagues, senior officers and even his opponents affirm: “Badal Saheb listens to everybody, discusses with the collectors and superintendents of police directly when any problem arises anywhere. He always speaks to his party leaders and prominent persons directly on important issues.” “If he is not happy, he personally visits the area and discusses individually with the public,” says a senior official of his office.
Badal is always concerned for the economically backward people. He always gives preference to meet the common man rather than his partymen and his officials. One of his popular schemes is ‘Sajjan’ scheme, which is meant for the marriage of poor girls. Also he has another popular scheme called ‘Atta-Daal’ scheme, i.e. to supply wheat and pulses to the economically backward people at a very cheap price. For him growth of agriculture sector is growth of Punjab. He has fought many times to get minimum support price for the farmers in Punjab as the state is otherwise known as a food bowl of India.
BADAL IS A TRUE NATIONALIST—Rajnath Singh
Parkash Singh Badal understands the pulse of Punjabi people, Punjabi culture and has worked his whole life for the uplift of Punjabi people. Shri Badal has sacrificed almost fifty years of his life to protect and preserve the tradition, culture and glory of Punjab. A true nationalist, Badal is known as a friend of farmers and has always fought for the farmers’ right. The SAD-BJP government in Punjab has taken many initiatives for a developed Punjab. As Punjab economy basically depends on agriculture sector, he has tried his best to supply 24 hours electricity and water for irrigation purposes.
The Badal government has started many schemes for the poor people like Atta Daal scheme and Sajjan scheme. Everytime he comes to Delhi with a proposal for the uplift of the farmers. In fact, he has fought many times with Union Agricultural Minister to provide minimum support price for the food grains and for building more storage house for food grains. Since 2007, Punjab has witnessed a sense of peace and harmony in society. He respects every religion and visits all religious places, despite actively associated with the pride of Sikhs.
The octogenarian leader has a vision for the all-round development of the state starting from health, education, agriculture and security. He is a respected and the oldest partner of NDA. Under his Chief Ministership, SAD-BJP alliance is running a smooth government with peace and prosperity. He is the champion of coalition dharma. I am happy that Shri Badal is entering 85. I wish him a good and prosperous life.
Punjab being the largest state for the production of food grains, the state still lacks infrastructure for storage of food grains and the farmers are still struggling to get good price of their food grains. For farmers, Badal Saheb has launched schemes for electricity and water at an affordable price. So the entire credit goes to Badal Saheb for no fees for octrai gates in urban areas to give relief to the business class. But if one really goes deep into the works he has done in the field of health and education sector, one sees more leg work and innovative schemes.
“AKALI DAL-BJP’S RELATIONS QUITE STRONG”—Sukhbir Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister
Parkash Singh Badal has dedicated his whole life to the cause of the common man. He has been elected as the Chief Minister five times and that is due to his credibility. He is trusted by the people across the country. This faith reposed in by the people in him is the main reason for his success. He is quite clear in his mind that he will stay in Punjab only and won’t move to Delhi. Our vision is to make Punjab number one state in terms of infrastructure and we are working towards that direction. We hope that in the next four and five years, Punjab will be a changed state. He is known as a friend of the common man because he has introduced many policies keeping in mind the necessities of the common people. And as far as the alliance of Akali Dal and BJP is concerned, there has never been any coordination problem. And our relationship is not new, it’s quite strong.
The CM claims that Punjab is second in the country in the field of education but it would be much beneficial for the primary education sector if it does have more infrastructure. And the same is the state of primary health sector. After talking to the authorities concerned one finds that health sector needs more attention as there are not many doctors in the rural Punjab and also more infrastructure is required to meet the need of the hour. But the state government has done a commendable job in giving ambulance facilities for the poor people and the state roads are really motarable to carry the patients. The government officials claim that schemes are there in the pipeline to strengthen the education and health sectors in Punjab.
LEADER WITH MAGNETIC AURA—Om Prakash Chautala,
Former Chief Minister, Haryana
His sympathy for farmers is praiseworthy. He keeps making incessant efforts for the development of the farmers. Another extraordinary feature is his humanity. I have never seen this kind of covetousness in him. He is a very legitimate person. As far as I remember he is the only one who was in jail for such a long period after Freedom Movement. Congress government has always besieged him. Even at the time of his daughter’s marriage, he was suffering in jail. My father Shri Devi Lal Chautala did his daughter’s kanyadaan.
At this age, he works more than a boy of 20 years. Such is his liveliness. He always keeps making labours so that more and more facilities can be provided to the farmers. One can often see him giving personal monetary assistance to the poor and needy people. I have never seen any Sikh out of the country due to any disappointment under Badal’s leadership. They are going out for development and service. Nobody will challenge if I say that the state is safe and secure in his hands.
It is worth mentioning that Parkash Singh Badal never wears any wrist watch but he is always there in time if he has any meeting. Many party people of SAD and BJP speaks at length about Badal Saheb’s punctuality. If he has half-an-hour meeting with someone, he will finish it in half-an-hour without seeing the watch. He doesn’t need any printed programme schedule for his day’s agenda. He finalises his own programmes and all the programmes are printed on his mind. At the age of 85 he doesn’t need any one’s help to remind him his schedule. A true disciplined human being, Badal Saheb has completed 84 years of his life. And he admitted candidly that he never had any spare time for his personal life in his career. I almost spent one hour with him to closely know about his long political life and lessons he can suggest to the future generations to come. Very calmly and humbly he described the glorious moments and painful moments of his life which we have mentioned in the interview. Badal Saheb is very unhappy with the Congress Party, not for being a political opponent but he feels disgruntled to inform that many times when he demands anything for the state of Punjab, the Congress government at the Centre always gives him the cold shoulder. He totally blames Congress for the sorry state of affairs in Punjab, that it is facing today.
“OUR PRIORITY IS OUR OWN PEOPLE, NOT OUR POLITICAL POWER OR PERSONAL GREED”—Parkash Singh Badal, Chief Minister, Punjab
Talking of Punjab without the towering Parkash Singh Badal will not be a talk seriously focusing on Punjab in terms of its rapid progress, remarkable development and radical changes in the state. Badal is one who deserves the whole credit for Punjab going places. Deepak Kumar Rath, Editor, Uday India, touches many aspects of his life that contributed a great deal to bringing the state on a par with other states. Excerpts:
It is said that even your opponents describe you as a very humble, honest, disciplined and punctual many. How have you made it practically possible?
I started my career in politics as a sarpanch. I graduated in Lahore in 1947 and we were the last graduates in the party. Then I became the chairman of the Block Samiti. And I was the youngest MLA in the whole country in 1957 and then I was the youngest Chief Minister and now I am the oldest Chief Minister in the country. My point is that I have struggled for the whole life not ever thinking that I want to become the CM or any other minister.
How much time do you spare for running the government and for public grievances?
Public grievances are a part of managing the government. I have reserved two days a week for them. Anybody can come and meet me anytime. Three days a week I meet the MLAs, other VIPs and anybody who can fix the time to meet me. I do it in such a way that both the government and public don’t suffer.
When I was in Punjab just eight days back, I came to know from several quarters that you meet every common man, ministers and everybody on time. How is it possible for a busy man like you?
It is not difficult at all. One has to make up one’s mind. One thing more, I don’t keep a watch, a pen or any money. I have made up my system in such a manner that even if I get late by five minutes, I get perturbed. So everybody should take care of the time also along with the duty that one has to discharge with honesty, dedication and commitment.
What is the priority for the people of Punjab at this moment?
Punjab is a state that has suffered a lot. The first setback was the Partition of the country even in terms of economy. No other state has suffered so much as have the Punjabis. You will get to know the scenario if you ask the people of Punjab about that time. Also Punjabis, who had migrated from the other side, were not compensated properly. They were not given land or any other thing. Another setback was the reorganisation of the state. Reorganisation was not on our demand. It was the national policy at that time that after Independence states would be reorganised so that the people of the same culture and language could live in one state. Our case is very clear in it—Punjab and Punjabis. At the Centre at that time in the very beginning, the Congress government remained against us. We were deprived of our capital. Everywhere the parent state is given the capital and the successor state builds its own capital. But Punjab is the only state where the situation is reverse. Even on the water issue, Punjab has got only one natural resource of water. However, it is a well-known fact Punjab is known as the land of five rivers. We were even forced to get water from other states that have no legal rights over that. So there are many such instances where I can say that the Congress government has given us big setbacks—economically, politically and religiously also. But I don’t want to repeat all those things. So Punjab in every way is in the worse condition—even in the sector of industries. We are not against any state as we all are like brothers but if a neighbour state is given such a heavy concession that it results in the flight of industries from Punjab. We are struggling against this injustice every day. Even for minor issues, we take out morchas and rallies. I had to spend fifteen years of my life in jail after Independence. What I mean to say that in spite of the fact that Punjab is the sword of the country, God knows why they treat us partially.
Can you tell me in brief that what are the major achievements of your party for Punjab?
One thing is that only Shiromani Akali Dal is the only party that fought for the right of or injustice against the people of Punjab. The sate Congress party has never raised any voice against injustice done by Congress. Fifty per cent of the people are living in villages and they are contributing to agriculture but this year also the central government has not increased the price of wheat while it has increased the price of diesel and fertilizers. The central government does not do justice to Punjab or even farmers and this shows injustice to farmers, it is making them Punjab farmer to suffer. There are certain formulas according to which they give grants to the states. Suppose if they sanction grants for roads, they will give preferences to only those who have not constructed any road to the villages. If they provide funds for irrigation, they say that should be used for the states which don’t have proper irrigation. We don’t have a problem with that but our concern is to maintain the roads, our concern is to maintain irrigation. We need money for that. At every step, the Congress government deprives our state of many things.
You say Congress is responsible for the backwardness of Punjab and it has also hurt the emotions of the people. Still Amarinder Singh was elected and Congress came to power. Why is that so?
Sometimes it happens. That is a different question. I don’t want to get into the details. But if I am saying all these things, it is a matter of fact. That we are deprived of Chandigarh is a fact. Our water rights were ignored. Not a single industry has came to Punjab. In fact, our own industries have shifted to other states. In military, I don’t remember the exact number but there were a large number of persons from Punjab. But to deprive Punjab of that service, they made a formula that in military, the recruitment would be based on population; it won’t be based on merits.
Now you are the Chief Minister, so how much time do you need to keep Punjab in the front runners like growth rate or per capita income, which can be compared to other states? How much time does Punjab need?
Actually the system is that all the power of the state has been reserved by the Central government. Even for minor things like the construction of a link road, we have to get the estimate sanctioned from the government. And the state government has to face the people. The problem in the whole country is that our forefathers, our constitution makers wanted to make India a federal system but now they have changed it to a unitary form of government. So we are at the mercy of the Central government. It is high time the state governments were given financial and decision-making powers.
There are many states that are marching ahead with the same centre-state relationship. Don’t you think that Punjab needs some kind of revival policies?
Actually the difference lies in the situation. Punjab is situated at the border. Some states like Haryana are situated near the capital city of the country. Some states are near the sea. So the situation of every state should be kept in mind. Earlier it used to be freight equalisation. Suppose if we need coal or any other thing, the freight used to be the same. But now the freight equalisation has been changed. We have to suffer every day, every time.
Agriculture is the backbone of Punjab’s economy. Still farmers aren’t getting any modern technique. Food grains are lying in the open and there are no proper facilities for storage.
What I am saying is nobody wants to go deep into the problem. Our work is production. Farmers can produce things and rest depends on the Centre because the purchasing of the food grains is done by the FCI. They don’t allow us to even construct the stores. We can’t do anything. For storage, we have to get permission from the FCI, if it allows then only can we construct stores. We have tried our level best. The government has to sanction for the storage and movement of food grains from Punjab to give other states.
Another problem that Punjab is facing is that the ground water level is depleting. What is your comment on that?
When we got Independence, the major problem was food security. We used to beg for food like beggars do. And the farmer of Punjab took the responsibility to produce food. We spend all the energy of our land, all the natural resource of water. Now people say that we have done a wrong thing. They are blaming us. Had we not grown so many grains adequately people would have died of hunger. Now they are saying they will not purchase paddy (wheat). Whatever we have done, they should appreciate and help us in the matter. Whenever there is a crisis, we come for rescue but when there is a crisis for the farmers, nobody comes to their rescue.
That is all right Sir but without water, what would be the fate of the farmers of Punjab if the ground level will go down further?
We have met agriculture minister. We want to diversify. There is a possibility. But for that diversification, government should be ready. Instead of paddy, we can produce maize. But that issue has to be fixed by the government and a marketing system needs to be developed for the marketing of the maize. Unless there are alternative arrangements what can we do? There is not a single issue where they can ask that we are not doing properly.
Coming to the health care system in Punjab, the primary health care system in Punjab is not in a very good shape. I heard that there are many vacant posts in the hospitals and the government does not have money to give to the doctors. Is that a fact?
The Government of India has given us excellence in health infrastructure. And in terms of education, we were fourteenth in India earlier. Now we are at number one position among all the states—only two Union Territories that are Lakshadweep and Pondicherry ahead of us in the government record. You can check this. The main thing is that communal harmony and peace is the best in our state in spite of the fact that it is near to Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir. But we are keeping extra vigil that records say that there have been no such incidents in Punjab.
Whole life, you have been involved with Sikh politics. Has it ever affected your political life?
Nobody understands what the philosophy of Sikhism is. I think secularism and socialism which the government has written in the Constitution—real secularism is by our great gurus which we follow. The foundation of Harmandir Saheb was laid by Mia Meer. The teachings of all our gurus are about secularism. And for socialism we sit together in langars, sangat, etc. So if everybody follows these principles then it can be a real country.
You said that there were many brave faces of Punjab but there is not a single memorial in Punjab. Why is that so?
We are recently constructing a memorial near Jalandhar for which already 25 acres of land has been reserved and an expert committee has been formed and we are going ahead. Within two years you will see the role of Punjab in freedom fight which will be depicted there. Punjab is the only state to do so.
How comfortable are you with NDA since you have a long partnership with BJP?
We don’t treat politics as a business. We never thought that we could get this from here and that from there.
Recently Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have named Narendra Modi as a deserving candidate for Prime Minister. Do you support Modi?
This has neither been discussed in NDA nor with us. So this is not the right time to say anything. NDA has not decided anything yet. All are personal views. I don’t want to give my personal view.
How do you rate the UPA government?
The UPA Government is a complete failure. You can say there is no internal security. How many parts in our country are under the influence of Naxalites. Now there is no external as well as internal security. The country had witnessed attacks on Mumbai, Parliament and now China is building up military posts on the border. India is one of the poorest countries. God has given us everything—whatever resources we needed for progress, we had all of them. It was known as the golden bird of the world. It is our misfortune that we are going down in every field. If you see daily newspapers, you will find our growth rate is going down and price rise is going up.
Corruption is a big problem in the whole nation. Have you done something to check corruption in Punjab?
We are doing our best on this line. There are many big problems like black money and corruption at the top level of ministers. There is a black market and a parallel economy is going on. Unless these problems are rooted out, nothing can be done.
You have a long political career. Can you tell me any memorable moment of your life?
All are memorable moments. I don’t get bothered about anything. I just work hard and the rest I leave to God.
How much time do you give to your personal life?
I don’t have any personal life.
Can you tell me your biggest weakness and strength?
I don’t know. The people can judge. They know everybody’s weakness. I can’t comment on myself.
What is your message to the leaders of next generation in our country?
They have got a great responsibility on their shoulders to carry. Everything depends upon new generation and how they solve their problems. Because these problems can be solved by the people at the helm of the affairs. Our priority is our own people and not our personal or political power or personal greed. If people have given us so much, we should give them something in return.
The blame game is not an abnormal aspect in politics but Badal Saheb this time would be answerable to the people of Punjab whatever plea he may bring. His son Sukhbir Singh Badal is now president of SAD and also Deputy Chief Minister of the state. Half a dozen members of his family are sharing power in the SAD-BJP coalition government. So it may be risky for Badal Saheb to totally depend more on his son-cum-Deputy Chief Minister and other members who are in the government, because at the end of the day Chief Minister Badal Saheb would have to bear the brunt for the success and fall of the government. So Badal Saheb has to concentrate more on governance and personally he should ensure that the finances meant for the development purposes are spent properly to yield results in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. A good, honest, humble and finest gentleman does not always take credit for good governance. One has to follow Rajdharma to become a good king. Also his son Sukhbir who is waiting to take over the mantle of his father, will have to build his own image. He cannot get sympathy votes in the name of his father.
By Deepak Kumar Rath from Chandigarh