A long relationship ends in Punjab’s first family (Letter From Chandigarh)

October 23rd, 2010 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Raj Thackeray By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, Oct 23 (IANS) In Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, personal and political factors have driven a wedge between members of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s family. The expulsion of Manpreet Singh Badal, nephew of the chief minister, from the Akali Dal Wednesday brought a decades-long relationship to a dead end for both sides, with each charting its own course.

Manpreet not only came into confrontation with the Akali Dal’s stated policy on giving subsidies and free power to farmers but also with his cousin and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal over the controversy regarding a Rs.350 billion waiver from the central government for Punjab’s Rs.700 billion debt.

Sukhbir, who is Punjab’s powerful deputy chief minister, is the son of the chief minister.

“It is unfortunate that this (Manpreet’s exit) has happened. The party is supreme and the son and the nephew are equal before it. Indiscipline from no leader can be tolerated,” said Parkash Singh Badal.

Manpreet, 48, is an honours graduate from Delhi’s St Stephen’s College and a bar-at-law from London.

Sukhbir, 47, did his master’s degree in economics from Panjab University at Chandigarh before completing his business management degree from California State University in Los Angeles.

A sculptor by hobby during his college days, he is now trying to chisel the future of the Akali Dal, the second oldest political party in the country founded in 1920, after he assumed the mantle of party president from his 83-year-old father in 2008.

The unceremonious exit of Manpreet, first from the Badal government where he was finance minister until last week and finally from the party, is being seen not only as an outcome of his statements that went against the party’s policies but also of the fight for the political legacy of the chief minister.

Manpreet, after being sacked from the cabinet, said: “It is the saddest day of my life. But I have only been speaking for the long term welfare of Punjab. I was born an Akali. I did not choose it as a party. The present party is the Sukhbir Akali Dal.”

At one time, over a decade and a half back, Parkash Singh Badal had indicated that Manpreet, the son of his younger brother Gurdas Badal, could be his political heir.

Though the chief minister and Sukhbir say his exit will not affect them politically, even Akali Dal leaders, along with opposition Congress leaders, admit that Manpreet could harm Akali Dal’s political interests.

They are equating Manpreet’s situation to that of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) firebrand leader Raj Thackeray, a nephew of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.

The day he was sacked from the cabinet Manpreet got the support of four legislators, including three from the Akali Dal and one Independent. Though the party was able to wean back one Akali legislator, two others have been served show-cause notices for supporting him.

That Manpreet commands some clout in the state because of the Badal family name has been evident ever since his fight in the family and the party came out in the open earlier this month. Akali Dal leaders and state government officials have been trying to sabotage his rallies, meetings and other events even though Sukhbir Badal denies that any of this is happening.

The former finance minister is known for keeping a low profile, not even taking armed security cover from Punjab Police which most members of the Badal family, ministers and many politicians in Punjab flaunt openly.

The fight between the sons has left their fathers - Parkash Singh Badal and Gurdas Badal divided too.

Gurdas Badal, a former Lok Sabha MP and younger brother of the chief minister, has been managing the Lambi assembly constituency that Badal senior represents for the last few decades.

“I am totally with Manpreet in this. I think he has done the right thing,” Gurdas Badal said.

Harcharan Bains, the chief minister’s media adviser, said: “What has happened is very sad. The chief minister tried to get in touch with Manpreet and his father from his hospital bed (after suffering a fall).

“While Manpreet did not respond, his father who was coming to meet the chief minister, was stopped en route from coming to Chandigarh.”

As the divide gets bigger, it is the opposition Congress that may be waiting for more fireworks to happen. After all, the assembly elections will dawn in March 2012.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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