By Jaideep Sarin
CHANDIGARH– Parkash Singh Badal, India’s oldest chief minister, turned 88 on Tuesday but shows no sign of tiredness or any intention of retiring any time soon.
Starting his day early, “Badal Saab”, as he is referred to by most people around him, actively goes through his daily routine of meetings with officers, ministers, delegations and others who come to meet him.
Badal’s ‘Sangat Darshan’ (meeting with people) programme takes him to several villages and towns across Punjab every week.
The programme is basically to take the government to the doorstep of the people. Hundreds throng every place where he stops and listens to problems and suggestions.
“Badal Saab is always active despite his age. He is alert too and his memory is far better than most of the much younger people around him. He is a real leader of the masses,” a close aide of the chief minister, who accompanies him to most places, told IANS.
Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, of which Badal is the chief patron and the strongest leader, depends a lot on the charisma of the leader, especially during trying times.
Badal is also a long-time ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party and enjoys warm personal relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
When he turned 87 years old last year, Badal celebrated his birthday with school students in Gidderbaha town in southwest Punjab. He cut over half a dozen birthday cakes that day.
Starting from a simple agricultural background, Badal forayed into politics by getting elected as ‘sarpanch’ (village headman) in 1947, the same year when the country got independence.
He was first elected to the Punjab assembly in 1957 on the Congress ticket.
After leaving the Congress soon after, Badal ended up opposing the Congress policies and governments. He and the Akali Dal continue to oppose the Congress.
Well-known for his witty one-liners and memory of people and events, Badal has always remained centre stage in Punjab’s politics in the past over six decades.
Born December 8, 1927, in an agriculturist family in Abul Khurana village near Malout in southwest Punjab, Badal has been chief minister of Punjab five times – 1970-71, 1977-80, 1997-2002, 2007-12 and 2012 onwards.
He has been in power in Punjab continuously since March 2007. He briefly remained a union minister in 1977 in the Morarji Desai government.
Badal’s wife, Surinder Kaur, died in 2011 from cancer. The Badal couple had two children, son Sukhbir and daughter Preneet.
Badal’s close family members are all in the government.
His son Sukhbir Singh Badal is the Akali Dal president and deputy chief minister and dominates the party and government affairs now.
Badal’s daughter-in-law Harsimrat Badal is the union minister for food processing. His son-in-law Adaish Pratap Singh Kairon is a cabinet minister in his government as is Harsimrat’s younger brother Bikram Singh Majithia.