Shri Sukhbir Singh Badal is the President of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), an Indian Political Party with a predominant presence in the Indian State of Punjab. Mr. Badal has also served as the Deputy Chief Minister of the state for 10 years between 2007 and 2017. The SAD is a coalition partner of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), whose leader Mr. Narendra Modi is India's Prime Minister. In Punjab, the SAD has been a longstanding partner of the BJP for decades and has played a leading role in the coalition governments at the state level. In addition to being the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr. Badal is a two-term Member of Parliament and a former Union Minister of State for Industry. Mr. Badal holds a Masters in Economics from Punjab University, and an MBA from California State University, Los Angeles, United States of America.
In this interview, we asked Mr. Badal about the state of politics in Punjab since the SAD-BJP's defeat at the hands of the Indian National Congress in the Punjab elections of 2017. We also discussed the problems of substance abuse in Punjab, alongside India's national political scene ahead of the 2019 General Elections.
Q. You are the President of a party that by 2020, will be 100 years old. The Shiromani Akali Dal began as a party in an era when issues of politics were very different from those today. What would you say defines SAD’s identity and relevance for voters today?
Ans. SAD has always been a people’s first party. It continues to be so. Earlier when the party was founded we fought to free Gurudwaras [Sikh shrines] from Mahants – because that was the need of the day. Thereafter, we were at the forefront of the struggle for a separate state [of Punjab] based on linguistic lines. We have constantly fought to protect the river waters of the state. We have also fought against tyranny and repression during the period of emergency [1975-77]. Today we are again at the forefront of the fight to ensure the promises made to Punjabis by the Congress party [in the 2017 elections] are fulfilled. So if you look closely you will find that the SAD has always stood by the people and is committed to fulfilling their aspirations to the best of its capability.
Mr. Badal at the Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab. Image Courtesy: OneIndia Gallery.
Q. The Assembly elections last year were surely a disappointment for your party; to what do you attribute the defeat, especially given the fact that in 2012, SAD had broken the longstanding tradition of Punjab changing governments every 5 years?
Ans. If you examine the ten year tenure of the SAD-BJP government from 2007 to 2017 you will find that maximum development took place in Punjab during this period. This is the time when the State achieved [electric] power surplus status. Four lane highways were laid across the state, and innovative social welfare schemes for the disadvantaged were launched. The opposition did not have any agenda against the government. It was during this period that the issue of 70 per cent youth of Punjab being drug addicts was first raised by Congress [party] President Rahul Gandhi and then taken up by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). A sustained misinformation campaign was launched against the SAD-BJP government. This also included allegations that SAD was behind incidents of sacrilege. Today the Congress and AAP stand exposed because the drug addicts seem to have disappeared. In addition, sacrilege incidents continue indicating a deeper conspiracy against the SAD-BJP government.
Q. What measures are you taking as President of SAD to effect course correction and bring back the party’s appeal?
Ans. The appeal of the SAD can be judged from the massive response the party is getting in successive Pol-Khol [bring out the truth] rallies being organized across the state. The response is even beyond our expectations and indicates that the people are thoroughly disillusioned with the Congress government and want to teach [Congress Party] a lesson in the forthcoming Lok-Sabha polls [General Elections].
2017 Punjab Election Results. Image Courtesy: Firstpost.com
Q. How would you rate the performance of the Congress government since they took office last year?
Ans. Rating can be done if there is any performance. The [Congress] government can be described as a zero performance government. Right after it came into being it stopped all developmental work. All funds released for village works and sewerage projects were recalled. The government subsequently betrayed the farmers by refusing to waive off their loans. It refused to provide any employment to the youth. It has stopped all social welfare measures, be it Old Age Pension, Shagun Scheme for marriage of disadvantaged brides, and even scholarships for Scheduled Caste students.
Q. According to you, what are the three most disconcerting policy initiatives of the present government?
Ans. The irony is that this government has failed to come up with any policy initiative at all. It has no roadmap for either the farmers, industrialists or the poor. Forget initiatives it had encouraged Congressmen to levy goonda tax on businesses. It legislators have formed liquor and sand mafias which are looting the citizens. The government has raised power tariffs and even levied new taxes but has failed to give any benefit to any section of society.
Mr. SS Badal (R) with incumbent Chief Minister of Punjab and Congress Party leader Capt. Amarinder Singh (L).
Q. What should be the state government’s role in the rehabilitation of citizens affected by substance abuse? What steps would SAD take, were it in power, towards that end?
Ans. The track record of the SAD-BJP government is there for all to see. We started drug de-addiction and rehabilitation camps under the aegis of a team of doctors of the PGIMER, Chandigarh. Simultaneously we started drives in villages to spread awareness against drug addiction and co-opted NGOs, village elders and panchayats in this task.
Q. Punjab is also one of the country’s most successful agriculture story. However, as is evident by the need for the recent farm loan waiver, farmers in Punjab, like those in the rest of India, are in distress. In light of this, what do you make of the Centre’s claim of doubling farm income by 2022?
Ans. This is a laud-worthy goal. It is very appreciable that Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is taking steps to make this possible. The decision to increase MSP [minimum support price] and ensure it is one and half times the cost of production will go a long way in reviving the farm sector. The SAD has made representations in this regard to the [Union] Agriculture Ministry and requested that all factors including land lease amount, as well as cost of family labour, be taken into account while fixing MSP for upcoming Kharif [monsoon] crops.
Former Chief Minister of Punjab and Akali Dal Leader Shri Prakash Singh Badal (L), Mr. SS Badal (Center), and India's Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi (R).
Q. Lastly, the Shiv Sena recently broke off with the BJP [Bharatiya Janta Party] for the 2019 elections. This seems to be due to the fact that a nationally strong BJP is getting the better of its regional allies. Will the SAD fight the next general elections with the BJP?
Ans.The SAD is the oldest and most trusted ally of the BJP. We have supported the BJP unconditionally and continue to do so. We will not only contest the next general elections in league with the BJP, but also the next Vidhan Sabha elections. Our bond is as strong as ever.
About the Interviewers
Abhay Singh Dhillon is one of the youngest politicians in India and the District General Secretary of the Youth Akali Dal. A highly decorated student of Welham’s School for Boys, Dehradun, Abhay is a multi faceted personality. He possesses extraordinary oratory capabilities and has also addressed a large number of rallies in Punjab. Abhay was recently recognised by the IAYP (International Award for Young People), a thriving youth program which discerns the various hurdles, snags faced by youngsters and professionals.
Prashant Khurana is a student of Law at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from Hansraj College, Delhi University. Prashant is an accomplished debater, and an active participant and organiser of Model United Nations Conferences and was recently invited as a Chairperson at the University of Kent, United Kingdom for their MUN conference. He has appeared as a guest panellist on Headlines Today (presently, India Today) News Channel and has also interviewed personalities such as Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, Dr. Sambit Patra, the Ambassador of Canada to India, among others.