By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh– At 89, he is the country’s oldest serving Chief Minister. And he is showing no signs of giving up any time soon. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is now in full election mode and is telling the electorate that their votes will give him another 10 years of life.
“Your vote is important. If you give me another chance to serve you, it will add 10 years to my life,” Badal, who is actively reaching out to people across Punjab through his ‘Sangat Darshan’ programmes across rural and urban areas, has been telling the people in recent weeks.
Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, of which he is the chief patron, is seeking a straight third term in office with Badal being at the helm of affairs.
As he turns 89 on December 8, Badal certainly does not fit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea that “politicians should retire at the age of 75”. But for Badal, who has been a long-time ally for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi certainly will make an exception.
As the five-time Punjab Chief Minister seeks a sixth term in office, and faces a tough challenge from the Congress and the new entrant on Punjab’s political scene — the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — Badal is certainly not showing any signs of getting tired or even retiring any time soon.
His political opponent and former Chief Minister, Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh, disputes his age. Amarinder claims that Badal is already actually 94. (He made the claim last week in the presence of Badal’s son Sukhbir Badal at an event in New Delhi.)
“Badal saab”, as he is referred to by most people around him, starts his day early and 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 the people) programme takes him to several villages and towns across Punjab every week. The programme is basically to take the government to the people’s doorsteps and hundreds throng every venue where he stops and listens to problems and suggestions the people want to share with him.
Those close to him say “Badal saab” is always active and alert despite his age. He has been in public life for nearly 70 years now.
“He is quite alert and his memory is far better than most of the much younger people who are around him. He has a mass appeal which no one can match,” an aide told IANS.
Hailing from a simple agricultural background, Badal forayed into politics by getting elected as a sarpanch (village headman) in 1947, the year the country won its Independence. He was first elected to the Punjab assembly in 1957 on a Congress party ticket. After leaving the Congress soon after, Badal ended up opposing the Congress policies and governments — a thing he continues to do even now.
Well-known for his witty one-liners and memory of people and events, Badal, who was conferred the Padma Vibhushan — the country’s second-highest civilian honour — in 2015 by the Modi government, has always remained centre-stage in Punjab’s politics.
Born December 8, 1927, at Abul Khurana village near Malout in southwest Punjab, he has been Chief Minister five times — 1970-71, 1977-1980, 1997-2002, 2007-2012 and 2012 onwards. He has been in power in Punjab continuously since March 2007. He was briefly a Union minister in 1977 in the Morarji Desai government.
Badal’s wife, Surinder Kaur, died in 2011 of cancer. The couple had two children — son Sukhbir and daughter Preneet.
Badal’s close family members are all in the government. Sukhbir Singh Badal, the Akali Dal President and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister, now dominates both party and government affairs. 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.