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'I have passed all tests for leadership'

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`I have passed all tests for leadership`

Q&A: Sukhbir Badal

Aasha Khosa / New Delhi April 06, 2008

MP and Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Badal tells AASHA KHOSA there is nothing wrong in him becoming the next Punjab chief minister

You are already being talked about as the next chief minister of Punjab. Are you comfortable with the idea of dynastic politics, even when parties like yours have been accusing the Congress of perpetuating this trend?

My case is different from that of the Congress. I have been in public life for nearly 20 years; I have gone through the rough and the smooth and have worked very hard to rise in the party. Unlike other political families in South Asia, who para-drop their children studying abroad to claim succession, I have worked my way up. More importantly, during the last Assembly elections in Punjab, I really worked hard and proved my mettle. So, I have passed all the tests that are required for a leadership position. If I become the chief minister tomorrow, what is wrong with that?

Your are already so powerful — people flock to you for seeking favours. Don't you feel this can harm your image?

The situation is different today. I hold the position of the president of my party. I am not just an ordinary partyman. People who come to me are our supporters and it is my bounden duty to help them. Ultimately, it is our party’s government and we have every right to help our supporters.

What reforms and changes are you planning for your party, which is seen to be linked to the ‘jathedars’ and gurdwaras?

I am planning a major makeover of the Shiromani Akali Dal. Although there is no ban on the entry of non-Sikhs in the party, the fact is that we do not have many non-Sikh leaders. You should soon see all this change. I want faces from all communities to find place in various committees of this party. Also, I want to induct many more younger faces in the leadership positions. Very soon, the SAD will give itself high-tech modern offices in towns and even villages. These offices will have internet facilities. The idea is to make our working transparent and also to create a link between the workers and leaders, the people and the party leaders.

Akali Dal and JD(U) have been consistent partners of the BJP. Don’t you want to have more choices and may be even experiments?

The Shiromani Akali Dal’s relationship with the BJP is not a marriage of convenience but is based on principles. It is also not a one-time affair but has a historical background to its very creation. We joined hands with the BJP at a time when the party was called communal and treated like untouchable by others. Mind you, our support to the BJP has always been unconditional. Then, both these parties have faced challenges (read militancy) together. During the worst years of Punjab militancy, we were pursuing a common agenda.

It is not a give-and-take relationship but is like a united family. Our cadres bond well at the grassroots and that is the cause of our success and reason for the longevity of our relationship. Unlike other alliances, this is not a bond between two political parties but a common mission that would continue for long.

Even after what happened in Gujarat, your party’s faith in your ally remains unshakable?

We believe that the Modi government was not behind what happened in Gujarat.

Has the Sikh community reconciled to what happened to it in the past after Manmohan Singh’s elevation as prime minister and the Congress offering an apology to the community?

In their heart of hearts, Sikhs in India have not pardoned the Congress party for the 1984 riots. Had the government been able to get even one person booked for the riots that saw hundreds of Sikhs killed in the heart of the country’s capital, probably the wounds would have healed. On the contrary, people who were involved in the riots have become ministers. Can you imagine this happening anywhere else — hundreds of innocent people killed and nobody put on trial? This is hurting the Sikhs. So what if Manmohan Singh is made the prime minister and he offers an apology? Didn’t they make Zail Singh the President when the Akal Takht, the holiest of the Sikh shrines, was razed in Amritsar? But one thing is sure that Punjab would never return to the days of militancy. Mind you, the state did not even witness one incident of retaliation when Sikhs were killed in Delhi and other parts after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

The Akali government is hounding former chief minister Amarinder Singh, who in turn had harassed you during his term. Is there any effort to end this politics of revenge in the state?

Amarinder Singh, interestingly, is locked in corruption cases that were registered during his regime. There was a massive embezzlement case registered during the Congress regime. We have not even filed even a single case against him.

Like in other parts of the country, farmers in Punjab are also committing suicide. What has your government done to help them?

Punjab is facing a major agricultural crisis. Our water table is going down at an alarming rate. If we do not reverse this, I am told the state’s land would turn barren in the next 40 years. Also, the costs of farming have gone up without the framers getting matching remuneration. Actually, a state government can do very little to end the plight of farmers, since all the powers, including those of finances, control of prices and procurement, are in the hands of the Centre.

The previous state government wanted to diversify the crop patterns to end the water-intensive rice-wheat cycle in the state. Are you following the same policy?

This proposal looks good on paper but is not practical. A farmer can grow new crops on experimental basis on a small part of his land but certainly not on the entire land. We are going to ask for a major package from the Centre for irrigation in Punjab and realistic remuneration for farm produce. This alone can salvage the farmers of Punjab.

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