Prakash Singh Badal played politics of ambivalence to help Punjab, and harm it too
A lanky Sardar stood out from the elitist crowd of students of Forman Christian College, Lahore, a cradle of Parkash Singh Badal’s Western education from where he graduated to make a mark in Punjab’s ‘Panthic’ politics, 1950 onwards till he passed away on April 25, 2023.
A votary of the separate identity of Sikhs and an ambivalent believer in the right to self-determination, young Badal was brought to the fore of Sikh politics by Sant Fateh Singh at a time when legendary Tara Singh – a non-Jat – drifted closer to the Congress in the 1960s. After Sant Fateh Singh’s death, this Lahore graduate became a force to reckon with from 1972 onwards and fought the atrocities perpetrated on people under the dictatorial regime of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency period in 1975.
Enigmatic yet widely acceptable tall leader of the Sikhs, Badal got catapulted to the post of Chief Minister (CM) of Punjab for the first time in March 1970, with the support of the Jan Sangh, later christened as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The coalition government of Akali Dal (Sant Fateh Singh) fell in June of the same year as the Jana Sangh pulled the rug from under Badal’s feet due to differences over the core issue of the status of Hindi and Punjabi in the state government offices.
Exhibiting his expertise in batting even on a wide ball, the village Abul Khurana, Malout born (December 8, 1927) Badal occupied the seat of CM in June 1977 for the second time, now with the support of the Communists and the Jai Parkash Narain founded Janata Party, only to be dismissed by Indira Gandhi later. Different genres of politicians had closed ranks during the Emergency period against Indira Gandhi. He went to jail for some time along with leaders like Morarji Desai, Lal Krishan Advani, and Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Badal was at the forefront of the Punjabi Suba struggle in 1960 which culminated in the creation of present-day Punjab in 1966. He became the choice of the people and the party to head the government in 1970. He was dethroned in 1980 as CM when he became a part of disgruntled Akalis burning copies of a clause of article 25 of the Constitution at Anandpur Sahib. He supported the Anandpur Sahib resolution – seen as a secessionist document by many – but timidly skipped signing it. He became Chief Minister 5 times for varied periods, the longest being from 2007 to 2017.
The 1973 Anandpur Sahib resolutions passed by the different Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) factions propagated a “quasi-independent state” for the Sikhs. This idea, over a period of time, seems to have evolved unhindered into the demand for Khalistan, resultantly overshadowing the ambivalent moderate leadership. Badal and Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale along with other leaders joined hands to launch the ‘Dharam Yudh Morcha’ from the precincts of the Golden Temple complex. This was admittedly to get the demands, as mentioned in the resolution, accepted. What followed as Operation Blue Star and Black Thunder at the Golden Temple too can be easily ascribed to be an “abnormal outcome” of the “quasi-independent state” demand of the Anandpur Sahib resolution. Thus Punjab saw a bloody decade-and-a-half-long period of terrorism and police encounters killing people of all religions, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims as well.
It emerged from my discussion with eminent Sikh scholars that the SAD led by Badal meekly allowed firebrand Bhindranwale to usurp the ‘Dharam Yudh Morcha’ movement, apparently aiming to get speedier desired results from the Center qua Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Though Sant Harchand Singh Longowal was officially appointed as the ‘Morcha’ dictator by the party for this otherwise peaceful struggle against Delhi. Modern weaponry somehow got introduced into it under the aegis of Bhindranwale. Even after 1995, the mayhem continued. Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh was assassinated by India’s first human bomb in Chandigarh that year.
Badal, an astute politician, knew how to survive against all odds leading to his supremacy over the party, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), and the government. His relationship with the longtime president of SGPC, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, provides greater insight into his skills likened to Robert Browning’s pied piper, behind whom masses walked as he mesmerizingly played on.
The love and hate relationship between Badal and Tohra is seen by many as having helped less but harmed more particularly the Sikhs. Badal succeeded in confining Tohra to the management of Gurdwaras, yet allowed him to play a limited role in the Akali governments whenever formed. Tohra had a sizable following within the party but could never outdo Badal, who always remained at the helm, only to be willingly maneuvered out by his son Sukhbir Badal. The pro-corporate ideologue Sukhbir became Deputy Chief Minister during the Akali-BJP regime from 2012 to 2017.
Taking his last breath at 96, the like me or like me not, leader Badal has left the stage open for the younger lot of dramatis personae to carry on the show which must go on.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.