Sunday, Dec 04, 2022

Battleground Badal

For almost a fortnight now,Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has been camping in his home constituency of Lambi,preparing for what could be his toughest election

A journey of around 300 km from Punjab’s capital Chandigarh into the heart of its Malwa region,is what it takes to get a flavour of the kind of political churning Punjab is witnessing in the run-up to elect its next government.

The state,which for decades has never allowed an incumbent government a consecutive term,is witnessing a keenly contested fight. And while some unprecedented strict monitoring on poll expenses by the Election Commission of India appears to have taken much sheen off the poll campaign,politicians are putting in all their energy into their campaigns.

Campaigning in his backyard

Lambi looks like one of the many small villages that dot Punjab’s countryside but looks can be deceptive. Lambi is special. It’s the village that has given name to the constituency which has returned Parkash Singh Badal to the Punjab Assembly three times running,starting 1997.

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Despite its claim to fame,till recently,Lambi,both the village and the constituency,with its dirty kuccha roads,filthy open drains and people living in clusters that identify them by their castes,was no different from any other in rural Punjab.

But that’s changing. Seeking a fifth shot at the Chief Minister’s chair,octogenarian Parkash Singh Badal knows that this election is his swan song. And he is pulling out all stops in a bid to make it count. Newly constructed drains have emerged in the village overnight. So have brick paved lanes. Paving of many kuccha roads that pass through open fields started just weeks ago.

For almost a fortnight now,the Punjab Chief Minister has remained parked in Lambi and has not been able to venture out to campaign in other parts of the state. Never before has the constituency seen Badal Senior,as he is usually referred to,spending so much time and energy in his own backyard in the run up to the polls. The Chief Minister,in fact,has even visited some neighbourhoods twice in the past few weeks,addressing gatherings which have low turnouts,unusual for a

CM’s address.

He talks about how the Congress has ruled the country for so long and how insecure the country has become under its rule. He talks about the Parliament attack,“half of the country being in the clutches of Naxals” and how Punjab,under him,has achieved peace and brotherhood. His speeches then veer off to the funds his “government has spent on development works”. “Apne halke da ummeedwar mukh-mantri baney taan fayda hai (It helps if the Chief Minister is the candidate from your area),” he tells people. The word benti (request) finds a repeated mention in his addresses. And before signing off,he often seeks forgiveness for his government’s omissions.

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Battleground Lambi could prove to be Parkash Singh Badal’s toughest challenge ever. The entry of his estranged younger brother Gurdas Badal in the poll fray is what has made Lambi a humdinger of a contest. And the fact that the third main contestant from the seat happens to be his cousin Maheshinder Singh Badal (Congress),whom he defeated by a mere 9,182 votes in the last polls,is sure to have the Shiromani Akali Dal patriarch concerned,if not worried.

Gurdas Badal,father of former Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal who made a highly controversial exit from the incumbent government in 2010,contested his only Assembly election from Lambi in 1977 and won with an impressive 56 per cent votes. In later years,he is said to be the man who nurtured this constituency for Parkash Singh Badal,enabling the latter to win in 1997,2002 and 2007. Pitted against his brother,Gurdas is contesting from Manpreet’s newly formed People’s Party of Punjab (PPP). Ask him about fighting his elder brother and Gurdas says: “Yeh to Kauravon aur Paandavon ki jung hai. Humein toh wohi karna hai jo Arjun ne kiya tha (This is a battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. We have to do what Arjuna did).

Badal: the village behind the name

Roughly 8 km from Lambi village and within Lambi constituency lies Badal—the village that gave Parkash Singh Dhillon his famous last name. “Anybody who uses the surname Badal has done so by aping the Chief Minister. People have made their political careers out of this surname. Even now,add Badal to your name and you’ll surely get a ticket to contest polls,” says a Shiromani Akali Dal activist in Badal village.

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This is the village which houses the palatial fortress of the Chief Minister,the residence of Manpreet Badal and the old havelis (sharing a common wall) belonging to Gurdas Badal and Maheshinder Badal. It also houses a building from where a Rural Institute for Vocational Training once functioned. Some village cows are now the only visitors to the RIVT.

“This building,being in a low-lying area,got flooded. They had to move the institute out,” says Gurmel Singh,who runs a shop just across the now-closed institute. The abandoned building lies forgotten.

Many roads leading to and inside Badal village are dug up. “Sewer lines are being laid. The work began around six months ago,” says Major Singh,who runs a cycle-repair shop in the village. “It’s taking a long time to get completed because wherever they dig,they find water,” explains Baldev Raj,an Akali supporter who says that fight on this seat has always been between the Akalis and Congress and this time will be no different. There are others,who,in hushed tones,question the sewerage works: “Why couldn’t it be done earlier?”

Suddenly,a group of young girls come riding on new bicycles. These are the cycles distributed by the Punjab government to schoolgirls under its ‘Mai Bhago Vidya’ Scheme. All the bicyles look brand new and carry a picture of the Chief Minister on the front. “Nobody has done something like this for our girls before,” says a villager. The girls are happy to show off their latest prized possessions.

But if there is one thing that sets this village apart from any other is the 24×7 power supply. “We don’t remember not having electricity in the past so many years. Nobody here has an inverter,” says Gurmel Singh,as a group of villagers nod in agreement. “The government is now planning to put all the electricity wires underground in this village,” says Sartaj Singh. “But many,who have been drawing free power illegally from the open wires,are not happy with this idea,” he adds.

First published on: 22-01-2012 at 02:19:59 am
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