Chandigarh : In the last nearly five years, no one was ever in doubt that Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal considered son Sukhbir Singh Badal as his political heir-apparent for the Shiromani Akali Dal and Punjab politics.
The historic win of the Akali Dal in the recent assembly elections, in which Sukhbir Badal led from the front, has made his domination in the party and the government absolute.
As Parkash Singh Badal this week took his oath of office as chief minister of Punjab for the record fifth time, also in the process becoming the oldest chief minister in the country at the age of 84-plus, it was his son Sukhbir, 49, who was at the centrestage of everything.
At the swearing-in ceremony in the historic Sikh battlefield of Chappar Chiri in Mohali town near here, where the likes of former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, union minister Praful Patel, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari, former BJP president Rajnath Singh, Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister P.K. Dhumal and many others descended, Sukhbir ensured that everything was in place.
All the VVIPs and even media organisation editors were flown in by helicopters for the ceremony. Five helipads were made near the venue for the VVIP arrival. Modi and a news channel owner-cum-editor-in-chief arrived in their helicopters when Governor Shivraj Patil was in the middle of the swearing-in ceremony.
Badal Junior, who is also the Akali Dal president and has been re-inducted as deputy chief minister in his father’s government, is the one who calls all the shots in the government and the party. Sukhbir holds the all-important portfolios of home, excise and taxation, sports and investment promotion.
Within hours of taking over, the government announced the appointment of Sumedh Singh Saini, who has had a chequered career as a senior police officer and is a close confidant of Sukhbir, as the Punjab Director General of Police (DGP). Saini superseded five officers to get the top job.
Among the new ministers in the Badal government, Sukhbir’s confidants, brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia, S.S. Malooka and Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, were inducted as cabinet ministers. All have been allocated important departments.
During the run up to the Jan 30 state assembly elections, Sukhbir had led the party from the front with the slogan ‘Raj Karange Pachhi Saal’ (we will rule for 25 years). With his father spending more time in his own Lambi constituency, where he was in a contest with his younger brother and a cousin, Sukhbir was the star campaigner for the Akalis.
His ‘micro-management’ and monitoring of the assembly seats, ensuring that Congress dissidents remained in the fray and plugging even small political loopholes – Sukhbir’s presence was felt everywhere.
“He has evolved greatly as a leader. He is a very mature politician now. He understands what is the way forward for the party and himself. He runs the party like a corporate office and is very result-oriented,” a senior Akali Dal leader said here.
Sukhbir’s political skills even got a pat recently from bitter political opponent and former chief minister Amarinder Singh.
“Unlike his father, he (Sukhbir) is decisive,” Amarinder said recently.