At 84, Parkash Singh Badal towers over all

Chandigarh : After Mandela, Badal. Did you know that Parkash Singh Badal, who could be Punjab chief minister for the fifth time, is the longest political prisoner in the world after South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela?

Born Dec 8, 1927, Badal spent nearly 17 years of his life in jails as a political prisoner – he was booked for a civil liberty agitation, sent to jail during Emergency (1975-77) and put in prison during the Dharam Yudh Morcha days of Punjab in 1980s, fighting for the rights of Punjab and its people.

The 84-year-old four-time chief minister of Punjab, who steered his Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine to victory for a record second consecutive term, is known for his mild mannerism, wit, grounded personality and his mass connect with people despite the huge security paraphernalia around him at all times. The veteran leader is well-respected in the country.

He entered politics way back in 1947, the year when India got independence, and never looked back. Badal, who comes from a landed, farming family of south-west Punjab’s Muktsar district, was first elected to the Punjab assembly in 1957 on a Congress party ticket.

During the run-up to the January 2012 assembly poll in Punjab, Badal clearly told people that this would be the last election of his 65-year political career.

As his son and heir apparent Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is president of the Shiromani Akali Dal, led the party from the front in this election and created history in Punjab’s politics by ensuring a second term to the combine, Badal Sr. looked a happy and satisfied man.

The man, who is slated to become the oldest chief minister of the state, was also its youngest. He became chief minister for the first time in 1970, at the age of 43. The government lasted only a few months. He had a brief stint as union minister in 1977 before becoming chief minister again (1977-80).

During the years (1981-95) of Sikh militancy in Punjab, Badal remained in political wilderness for over a decade.

Badal courted controversy during one of the agitations when he publicly tore the constitution of India. He apologised for the action years later. Ironically, he took oath as chief minister four times under the same constitution.

He returned as chief minister with a thumping majority in 1997. Ousted in the 2002 assembly polls and facing corruption cases with other family members and associates, Badal remained undeterred.

With the Akali Dal-BJP alliance, he romped home to power in 2007 to become chief minister for the fourth time. It was during this tenure that he let son Sukhbir take control of the Akali Dal and the government.

Sukhbir was made Akali Dal president in 2008 and elevated as Punjab deputy chief minister in 2009.

Badal was married to Surinder Kaur, whom he lost last year. They have two children – son Sukhbir and daughter Preneet. Badal’s daughter-in-law Harsimrat Badal is the Lok Sabha MP from Bathinda. His son-in-law Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon is a minister in his government.

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