By Sushil Kutty
A Sikh when he goes places can be traced to a gurdwara. Nowadays, the trace will lead through Canada, the United Kingdom and into enemy country Pakistan. Akali Dal titan Parkash Singh Badal would not be at any of these Sikh centres of convenience. After 75 years serving the Sikh cause, Badal has flown over what had become a cuckoo’s nest. Some would even say that at age 95, his departure was long overdue.
His enemies, definitely. Certainly, the Badal clan is now minus the anchor that kept the Badal ship afloat, followed by gradual slide into a state of receding political acceptance. At the fag-end of his long and illustrious political career, Prakash Singh Badal was swept into irrelevance by a new genre of politics, one that does not mind giving space to disruption and chaos.
After years of fighting the Congress and the SGPC, for the Akali Dal to be shunted into political wilderness by a piffling political entity must have been insulting for a giant like Prakash Singh Badal. The obituaries have been instant, penned even as the mortal remains were being wheeled out of the Mohali hospital. One piece wrote “the state has lost a towering figure of the Sikh Panth”.
Of course, everybody mentioned how Parkash SinghBadal was elected sarpanch of his village in Muktsar at the stroke of midnight in1947 when he was a callow 20-year-old, then he became MLA at 30, and subsequently in1970, Chief Minister, Punjab. And he was active when the trifurcation of Punjab happened. Also, he was a Congressman before he switched to the Akali Dal.
When Indira Gandhi declared Emergency, Prakash Singh Badal, then leader of Opposition in the Punjab assembly, was hauled off to jail. He was back as CM in 1977. In all, he was Chief Minister, Punjab, five times. In the 1980s, there was a lot of turbulence within the Akali Dal and Prakash Singh Badal contributed his share of the mischief afoot. His skirmishes with Captain Amarinder Singh hogged headlines. At one point, the Captain charged Badal with knowing of Operation Bluestar beforehand, accusing Badal of “wanting to get rid of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale”.
Within the Akali Dal, Badal was battling Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Surjit Singh Barnala. In 1994, Badal revolted against the Amritsar declaration that called for enhanced federalism. In the 1990s, Badal’s faction won the SAD’s ‘Scales’ symbol, and by 1996, he had united the ‘moderate’ factions to take total control of SAD, followed by the Moga declaration that made SAD a party of all the ‘Panths in Punjab’. Finally, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, whose SGPC fought Badal for control of Sikh bodies, was sidelined and Badal took total control.
The last couple of decades saw the Akali Dal play a national role, essentially as an anti-Congress party followed by being part of the NDA. And as Prakash Singh Badal faded, politically and physically, the Akali Dal opted to step out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s orbit. The BJP-led NDA does not look like it will resurrect. The death of Prakash Singh Badal will not make a difference.
No doubt Parkash Singh Badal had a thing going with the BJP, but he knew New Delhi was hard to please, even after Modi took charge. In fact, Badal was perhaps the first regional satrap who caught on to the Modi-BJP game of breaking regional parties, compelling them to play second fiddle to the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is another matter that the Akali Dal’s Sikh identity provided very little room for the game to play out.
Badal’s successful experiment of ‘Sikh-Hindu alliance’ at the state level also took a hit after Narendra Modi shifted from Gujarat to Delhi. Maybe Badal’s ”humble demeanour” couldn’t face up to the Prime Minister’s haughty “uppitiness”, who found it very frustrating that the Akali Dal was not allowing the BJP to increase its footprints in Punjab.
The anti-Farm Bills agitation further alienated the two parties and it is hard to imagine the BJP mourning Prakash Singh Badal’s demise. But it was his and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal’s handling of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim that cost the Akali Dal and the Badal clan a lot politically. Pardoning blasphemy-accused Ram Rahim was a mistake.
Sardar Parkash Singh Badal will be known as the longest serving Sikh politician but his long stint could not put the brakes on the continuing Khalistanisation of Punjab. His party stands accused of turning Punjab into ‘Udta Punjab’ where drugged out gangsters kill stoned pop singers and drugged out pop singers belt out numbers hailing stoned gangsters. April 25, Akali Dal patriarch Prakash Singh Badal left for a better place. (IPA Service)