Coalition, clan: Badal tries to keep flock together

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS

Chandigarh : Having been chief minister four times in Punjab may have given octogenarian Parkash Singh Badal enough experience of being in power. But his latest term in office – just eight months of it – has forced him to stretch himself to keep his coalition government, clan and even the party together.

Support TwoCircles

The soft-spoken chief minister, who is witty at most times, is now dispelling any rumours of his ruling Akali Dal’s alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) breaking up within eight months of jointly coming to power in Punjab in the February assembly polls.

“I must state that our alliance is eternal,” Badal said after being irritated by reports that the BJP was unhappy at playing second fiddle in government matters. But Badal admitted that there were momentary ideological differences.

The BJP’s public outburst in recent months against certain government policies, including subsidies to the agriculture sector running into billions of rupees, has put Badal in an embarrassing position. Certain other pro-rural decisions of the Badal government have also antagonised the BJP.

The BJP tirade is also linked to the party being upset over Badal not giving it the post of deputy chief minister. The BJP’s demand for the post is based on the fact that the Akalis are in power only because of the BJP.

In the 117-member assembly, the Akalis have only 49 legislators while the BJP has 19. Badal, who is considered close to top national-level BJP leaders, has stood with the party over the last four decades. But certain Punjab BJP leaders, seeing the party’s performance in this year’s elections, are even ready to dump the Akalis and fight on their own in future Punjab assembly polls. The BJP had dumped its ally in neighbouring Haryana – Indian National Lok Dal led by Om Prakash Chautala – before the assembly polls in that state in February 2005.

Badal is also facing a situation in which he has to keep his own clan in control within his council of ministers. With four close relatives, including Badal himself, in his 18-member council of ministers, he has to ensure peace within the family. His MP son Sukhbir Badal is the acting president of the ruling Akali Dal.

The chief minister has been embarrassed by the recent utterances of his nephew and Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal regarding the financial crisis in the state. Badal had to state that he would ask Manpreet to check his figures, on the state’s bad economic condition, again.

Badal’s son-in-law Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon, who is the grandson of former chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon, too has been sidelined in the present government by the overall dominance of Sukhbir.

Sukhbir’s own brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia is being promoted in the present government.

Within the Akali Dal too, Badal has been forced to say that there was no move to make Sukhbir chief minister. Though Sukhbir is the heir apparent to Badal senior, senior Akali leaders are not likely to digest his elevation easily.