Punjab Elections: Allegations of 'Dynasty Politics' Continue to Dog Badals and SAD

With several members of the family in the fray this time, the outcome may have a telling effect on the SAD's future.

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Jalandhar: At a rally in Nawanshahr district on February 8, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati lauded former the patriarch of her alliance partner, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Parkash Singh Badal for his seva bhav (will to serve) at the ripe age of 94.

Mayawati said, “Parkash Singh Badal was chief minsiter of Punjab many times. He may be old now but his desire to serve the people is still there. This is the reason why he is also contesting the election. Both Sukhbir Badal and Harsimrat Kaur Badal are also working hard to ensure the victory of the SAD-BSP alliance.”

While Mayawati’s words may resonate with SAD leaders, there is a section of voters that feels the party has been reduced to Badal’s fiefdom, raising questions over dynasty politics. The Badal family has been facing this allegation for the past over one decade, particularly after coming to power in 2007.

Ahead of the February 20 assembly polls, the family continues to face this allegation – this time, even more members of the Badal family are in the fray.

While Parkash Badal is contesting from the Lambi seat in Sri Muktsar Sahib district, his son Sukhbir is contesting from Jalalabad in Fazilka. Bikram Singh Majithia, who is Sukhbir’s brother-in-law, is contesting from the Amritsar East constituency while his wife, debutant Ganieve Kaur, is contesting from her husband’s home turf, the Majitha assembly segment.

Parkash Singh Badal’s son-in-law Adesh Partap Singh Kairon is contesting from the Patti assembly seat in the Tarn Taran district. Kairon is the grandson of former Punjab chief minister Partap Singh Kairon and has earlier served as a cabinet minister.

On the other hand, Sukhbir’s wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal is a three-time MP from Bathinda. She was serving as a Union minister in the Narendra Modi government but resigned in 2020 over the now-repealed three farm laws.

Recently, Sukhbir Badal’s daughter and son also campaigned for their father in Jalalabad, which evoked a sharp reaction not only from his rivals but voters too. While AAP candidate Jagdeep Kamboj raised allegations of ‘dynasty politics’ in his speeches, voters say, “Our children are unemployed. A third general of Badals is here to rule us.”

Kirtan Singh, a truck driver from Sultanwind in Amritsar, also took a dig at the Badals and said, “They have bahumat (majority) in the SAD, what else can one expect from them? SAD is no more a party of principles rather an apt example of dynasty rule. This is why it was reduced to third position in 2017. But they have not learnt any lesson.”

“If Bikram Majithia had decided to contest from Amritsar East, he could have fielded a party worker from Majitha. But his wife was chosen instead,” said Amrik Singh, a farmer from Dhilwan in Kapurthala district.

Another elderly man, Karamjit Singh from Nawanshahr Grain market, said, “The SAD has become the ‘Jagir’ of Badals, which is an injustice to the glorious past of the Akalis. They should understand that this is one of the reasons why many SAD veterans have left the party in the past few years.”

Former SAD leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, now the leader of SAD (Sanyukt) that is contesting elections in an alliance with the BJP and Amarinder’s Punjab Lok Congress, has also attacked the Badals. During Prime Minister Modi’s rally in Jalandhar on February 14, Dhindsa said in his address, “The SAD is confined to ‘Badal-Akali Dal’. They are campaigning with money amassed through illegal means.”

In 2019, Dhindsa had called for the SAD to be “liberated” from the control of the Badal family. He and several other veteran leaders had quit the party at that time.

It is pertinent to mention here that the SAD still carries the baggage of the 2015 sacrilege incidents and Behbal Kalan firing case, increase in the drug trade, and allegations of mafia involvement in sand mining and transport. These issues weighed on the party in the 2017 assembly elections, when it won just 15 seats. It is trying to reinvigorate itself.

‘People’s trust’

In an interview with BBC Punjabi, Sukhbir Singh Badal responded to these allegations by saying, “It is the people who decide who to elect. If this is such an issue, then why did people make Parkash Singh Badal CM five times? It is trust.”

Reacting to allegations of dynasty politics, the SAD candidate from Adampur in Jalandhar district Pawan Kumar Tinu said, “Every movement or political party revolves around a particular face. Even BSP’s politics was confined to Kanshi Ram. Similarly, Parkash Singh Badal has made immense contributions to Punjab’s development and the SAD. People made him CM for a record five times and believe in SAD.”

However, on Bikram Majithia’s wife stepping in poll fray, Tinu said, “Bikram’s wife Ganieve Kaur is contesting due to compulsion. As Navjot Singh Sidhu had challenged Bikram Majithia to contest from Amritsar East seat, she was fielded. There is nothing wrong with it.”

Former Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) member Bibi Jagir Kaur, who is contesting from the Bholath seat of Kapurthala district defended the Badal family and said, “The Badal family is important not just for the SAD but for Punjab too. People have faith in them. Since Sidhu is challenging the SAD leadership, they had to step in. In fact, nobody else other than Parkash Singh Badal can run Punjab.”

The SAD candidate from the Khemkaran seat on the Indo-Pak border, Virsa Singh Valtoha also supported the Badals and said, “Candidates are fielded on winnability. When Sidhu challenged Bikram Majithia, he decided to take him head on. Even my entire family is campaigning for me. Now, Badal’s third generation is also ready. There is nothing wrong. It is their responsibility to perform. Let’s not forget that ultimately you get votes by seeking them.”

Bahujan Samajwadi Party president Mayawati during an election rally in Lucknow, February 16, 2022. Photo: PTI/ Nand Kumar

Image reinforced, say analysts

Talking to The Wire, Chandigarh-based journalist and author Jagtar Singh said that with the entire Badal family contesting, the perception of SAD being synonymous with the Badals has been reinforced.

“A party with a glorious history has become synonymous with Badals. It used to be a panthic (dedicated to Sikh affairs) party but not anymore. The fact that it is a family-run party cannot be overlooked,” he said.

The journalist said the outcome of these polls will decide the future of Akalis. “In case the SAD fails to come to power, the Badal family’s control will be questioned. Though the party will continue, it will certainly lead to leadership change. On the other hand, if they win, the family’s hold will continue,” he added.

It is also important to note that the SAD is contesting elections without the BJP’s support. The alliance garnered both Sikh and Hindu votes but now the SAD will have to prove that they enjoy the support of Hindu voters – many of whom are traders or involved in business activities.

By allying with the BSP, the party hopes to make inroads among Dalit communities in Punjab, particularly in the Doaba region. The SAD-BSP will hope for a repeat of the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, when the alliance won 11 of the state’s 13 parliamentary seats.