By Vishal Gulati
Chandigarh, Feb 17 (IANS) The SAD-BSP alliance will sweep the polls in Punjab and there is no question of rejoining the BJP-led NDA government. The party is determined to break Congress leader Navjot Sidhu’s arrogance. And Parkash Singh Badal is a people’s man and he’s contesting at the age of 94 is a natural corollary.
These were the views shared by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) President Sukhbir Badal in an exclusive interview with IANS on Thursday in the run-up to the elections to 117-member legislative Assembly that his party ruled with its previous alliance partner the BJP for a decade from 2007.
“We will sweep the polls and are forming the next government in Punjab,” Badal, 59, who started his poll campaign nearly six months in advance in Punjab, a largely agricultural economy, to understand what is on the minds of the voting public, told IANS.
With most pollsters predicting the election a direct contest between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) with the Akali Dal predicted second or third position, he replied, “I wish all the best to these so called pollsters who are nothing but marketing agents who have been won over by the Aam Aadmi Party’s Rs 850 crore advertising campaign.”
“If you want to witness the strength of SAD please come and attend our public rallies or go the villages and towns of Punjab and take direct feedback from the people. Please don’t rely on any pollster. The SAD-BSP alliance will sweep the polls.”
Making a poll pitch, Badal, the man known for micro poll management for his now own controlled century old party with focus on farmers’ interests and justice for them, said Punjab and Punjabis are in a crisis.
“The Congress government did nothing for five years. It reneged on each and every promise made to the people be it complete farm loan waiver, Rs 2,500 per month unemployment allowance, jobs for each household and increase in social welfare benefits.
“It also stalled all development works but simultaneously presided over a sand and liquor mafia and looted the state exchequer. It was due to this that the state’s debt has increased by Rs 1 lakh crore in the last five years alone.”
Having led the party to an unprecedented second consecutive term in Punjab in 2012, Sukhbir Badal, whose father Parkash Singh Badal, 94, the country’s oldest candidate in the fray for the sixth consecutive term, is trying hard to save the ‘sinking ship’ after party’s humiliating defeat in the 2017 Assembly polls.
Also, for the first time SAD is testing waters after severing its ties with the BJP with which it joined hands in 1997 during the state polls and remained its oldest ally for 23 years.
On what pushed Parkash Singh Badal to contest election at this age, the junior Badal replied, “Sardar Parkash Singh Badal is a people man. He has devoted his entire life to the service of the people.
“Even during the last five years he has always been in touch with his constituents. He has visited them regularly to ask about their welfare. So contesting the elections was a natural corollary and also the demand of the people of Lambi. He has assented to their wishes.”
Believing that the political life of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is the Congress state unit chief, is coming to an end, former Deputy Chief Minister Badal said, “Sidhu’s arrogance will be his undoing.”
The Akali Dal has pitted Bikram Singh Majithia, the brother-in-law of Sukhbir Badal, against sitting legislator Sidhu from Amritsar (East) that is witnessing a bitter but an interesting ‘do-or-die’ battle in this election.
“We were determined to break Navjot Sidhu’s arrogance and teach him to love and respect his constituents.
“We believed it was our duty to engage him and give the people an option for development of their constituency. The Sidhu couple has ignored Amritsar East for the last 18 years. It is one of the most undeveloped constituencies in the state.
“Now the people have been given a chance to vote for the betterment of their constituency. You have already witnessed the love and affection Bikram Majithia is getting in the constituency. This itself is an indication which way the wind is blowing,” said the Ferozepur Lok Sabha member.
Sukhbir Badal was categorically clear in saying that there is no question of returning to the NDA fold in post-election alliance with the three contentious farm laws now scrapped.
“The issue is not of farm laws alone. Issue is of the manner in which the entire matter was handled by the BJP. More than 800 farmers were martyred simply because of the intransigent attitude of the BJP.”
Responding to his party’s please-all election manifesto, he said as far as the SAD-BSP combine is concerned, the manifesto addresses the concerns of all sections of society.
“The Scheduled Caste and weaker sections of society have been victimised by the Congress government. That is why we have come out with a scheme to give Rs 2,000 per month to the woman head of BPL families, besides raising the old-age pension to Rs 3,100 and the shagun benefit to Rs 75,000.
“We have also affirmed our commitment to not only continuing the free power scheme for farmers but also reducing the cost on the state by making it solar energy based. We are also committed to cleaning our river waters completely of all kinds of pollutants. So you see our manifesto is unique and takes into account the needs of each and every section of society.”
The Akali Dal was in alliance with the BSP in the 1996 Lok Sabha polls. At that time BSP supremo Kanshi Ram and the Akalis fought elections together and won 11 out of 13 seats in Punjab.
Out of the 117 Assembly seats, the BSP is contesting on 20, eight from Dalit-dominated Doaba region, seven from Malwa, and five from Majha belt.
Punjab has 32 per cent Dalit population, mainly concentrated in Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala districts.
“The SAD-BSP alliance will perform again. The BJP and its alliance partners, including the Punjab Lok Congress, are fringe players at best,” Badal, who himself is in fray from Jalalabad, the constituency bordering Pakistan he represented thrice but vacated after he was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019.
Do you think both SAD and the BSP will deliver with the same ideology and work for the welfare of the farmers, poor and ‘khet mazdoors’, if the alliance comes to power, he replied, “Please don’t believe us. Dissect our last record.”
“You must know that after promising free power to farmers in 1997, Sardar Parkash Singh Badal implemented this decision in the very first cabinet meeting. This facility is available to farmers only in Punjab.
“You would also know that the welfare schemes like old-age pension, aata-daal and shagun scheme were started by us. All sections of society trust SAD. They know that once we make a commitment we will stick to it. We don’t have to take false oaths or get any forms filled. Our word is enough.”
In the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress had won an absolute majority by winning 77 seats in the 117-member Punjab Assembly and ousted the SAD-BJP government after 10 years.
Punjab will go to the polls on February 20.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)