Sardar Parkash Singh Badal died on 25 April at the age of 95. The five-time Chief Minister of Punjab, a towering figure who marched like a behemoth across the state’s political landscape for more than seven decades, bowed out softly last evening. In Punjab politics, an era came to an end with his demise. The Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) has lost its architect, and the state has lost its great reconciler, a leader who believed in bridging ideological divides to preserve the state on the path of peace.
Badal’s political career began during the period of independent India when he was elected as a sarpanch at the age of 20. And it would go on to mirror the history of Punjab itself, from the battles with Pakistan to the crackdown during the Emergency, to the current situation. It would go on to parallel the history of Punjab itself, from wars with Pakistan and the crackdown during the Emergency to the decade-long militancy in the 1980s.
He rose from sarpanch to become the country’s youngest MLA at 25, and subsequently the youngest chief minister at 43. In 2022, he became the oldest politician to run in a Vidhan Sabha election, at the age of 94. Weak from a bout with Covid-19, he said he was only in the fight because his party told him to. “They said they’d win the elections if I ran,” he’d tell the masses in town after Hamlet. In one of his few setbacks, he was washed away by the Aam Aadmi Party’s tsunami. And he took it with folded hands.
As a strong Akali, he was imprisoned for several morchas (movements) and was also imprisoned during the Emergency, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to refer to him as the Nelson Mandela of India. Despite being a staunch supporter of federalism, he never took an anti-India posture, even during the height of the state’s militancy.
Badal, a firm believer in moderate politics, formed four post-poll coalitions with the Jan Sangh despite their opposing ideology in the early days of Punjab following its reformation in 1966. He served as a Union minister in the Morarji Desai-led Janata Party administration in 1977.
Later, once militancy ended in Punjab, he formed a political alliance with the BJP that lasted until 1997, making it one of the country’s longest such alliances. He was widely regarded as a guarantor of communal calm in Punjab. It was finally undone in 2021 due to disputes between the two parties on agriculture legislation. He was also the first to express his support for the minority-dominated NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Modi’s praise for Badal reflected his warm relationships with a slew of national leaders. He was the late Deputy PM Choudhary Devi Lal’s ‘pag-wat (turban swap)’ brother and remained close to the Chautala family until the end.