Five-time Punjab Chief Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch Parkash Singh Badal passed away on April 25. He is the country’s oldest politician — next only to BJP veteran L K Advani. The grand old man of Punjab politics first became chief minister in 1970, heading a coalition government that did not complete its term. He was also the CM in 1977-80, 1997-2002, 2007-12 and 2012-2017.Throughout his political career, Badal had always expressed “immense satisfaction and pride” over the strong and principled stand taken by his party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), “to save the beleaguered peasantry and the country”.
The Akali Dal was one of the oldest allies of the BJP. It was among the first to support the 13-day Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. And Akali patriarch Badal was a founder-member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The Akali Dal-BJP (earlier Jana Sangh) alliance has been described as the oldest and strongest in contemporary politics. No other coalition weathered so many political battles since March 27, 1970, when Badal became the country’s youngest Chief Minister. But the Akali Dal snapped its over two-decade long ties and pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in September 2020 after sharp differences emerged over the three controversial farm laws, now repealed.
For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Badal was India’s Nelson Mandela. It may be noted that Badal spent a lot of years in jail fighting for democracy, civil liberties and peace and reconciliation in Punjab. Days after returning his Padma Vibhushan over the ‘black farm laws’, the elderly Badal had urged Modi to scrap the three farm laws, claiming that they have pushed the country into a deep turmoil. In a four-page letter, Badal had called upon the Prime Minister to “show magnanimity” and withdraw these laws as a first step towards the resolution of the serious crisis confronting the country.
In 2022, Badal, the eldest candidate at 94 in the fray for the 117-member Punjab Assembly, had lost to AAP’s greenhorn Gurmeet Khuddian from Lambi by 11,357 votes, a seat he had won five times in a row since 1997. In 2017, when he ended his last stint as CM, he was among the oldest to have held that post. Badal’s governments focused on farmers. One key decision was introducing free electricity for agriculture. The Akali leader bitterly opposed the idea of the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, meant to share river water with neighbouring Haryana.
Badal was not the one to give up easily, on life or on politics. He was a hardcore political animal. He remained on political battle ground even at the age of 94. Despite the drubbing in the 2022 Assembly elections, the elderly Badal, who firmly believed that the farmers’ issue relates to the overall national interest, had expressed “immense satisfaction and pride” over the strong and principled stand taken by his party “to save the beleaguered peasantry”. He was often quoted as saying, “Sometimes parties face ups and downs. It happens in politics. The Akalis have a long history of rejecting the lure of office and standing up for principles.”
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