Home India Politics Ageing Akali Dal to be given corporate makeover

Ageing Akali Dal to be given corporate makeover

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS

Chandigarh : The 87-year-old Akali Dal, Punjab's dominant political party that has long been identified with blue-turbaned Sikhs in flowing white beards, looks set for a radical corporate-style makeover thanks to a new breed of second-generation politicians.

The man leading the push toward the modernisation of the Akali Dal is Sukhbir Singh Badal, son of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and often described as Punjab's chief minister-in-waiting.

A sitting MP, Sukhbir has just returned from a wildlife safari in South Africa and a short trip of Britain. He moves about in a swanky white Mitsubishi Pajero, and wants Punjab's ruling party to look like a 21st century corporate house.

"I am going to change the whole image of the Akali Dal. We need to bring corporate culture into functioning," Badal Jr., who has earned his management degree from the US, told IANS.

"You will see things change in front of your own eyes," he enthuses as he lays out his plans for the party whose enduring image has been that of ageing 'jathedars' – Sikh priests – sporting blue turbans and long white beards.

The plans include a corporate-style party headquarters that is nearing completion in Chandigarh and offices in several towns and cities across this affluent state.

"We will have good offices in our own buildings all over Punjab. The office staff and managers will be paid jobs. There will be no free meals. I want this culture to change," Sukhbir says.

For himself, being the Akali Dal working president, Sukhbir does not want a salary.

The Akali Dal, originally founded in 1920 as a Sikh party, is now witnessing a generational change, passing on from the likes of 80-year-old Parkash Singh Badal to the suave 44-year-old Sukhbir.

Four cabinet ministers in the Badal government form the young brigade of Punjab ministers – Finance Minister Manpreet Badal, Food and Supplies and IT Minister Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon, PWD Minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa and Information and Public Relations Minister Bikram Singh Majithia.

While Manpreet Badal drives around in his own Honda CRV sports utility vehicle (SUV) rather than a lumbering government car, Adesh Pratap has been seen picking up pizzas from a local fast-food takeaway. Clearly, they keep their ministerial airs to the minimum.

Sukhbir also has plans to modernise the state.

Among his schemes are international airports at Mohali, a Chandigarh suburb, and at Sahnewal near the industrial town of Ludhiana. He wants the Sahnewal runway to be large enough to receive an Airbus A-380 super-jumbo.

Other plans include setting up at least five academies to churn out thousands of pilots every year, making Punjab power-surplus within four years and building several four- and six-lane highways and expressways to smoothen road connectivity in the state.

"These are not just plans. Everything will start this year itself and will be completed in three years. That's a promise," Sukhbir claims between sips of Diet Coke.