At 84, Badal begins fifth innings as chief minister

Chandigarh: In 1969, Parkash Singh Badal, then 42, became the youngest chief minister in the country when he took over the reins of Punjab for the first time. On Wednesday, at 84 and after 65 years in politics, Badal became the country’s oldest chief minister when he took the oath of office for a record fifth time.

To make the swearing-in historic, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine chose the ancient Sikh battlefield of Chappar Chiri near here which has the country’s highest victory tower – Fateh Burj. It is dedicated to the warrior, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, who established the first Sikh state by defeating the Mughal forces led by Wazir Khan.

Wearing a dark blue suit and a blue turban, the bespectacled Badal looked visibly happy as he mingled with the VIPs at the venue of the ceremony. He was administered the oath of office and secrecy by Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil.

Badal had earlier become chief minister in 1969, 1977, 1997 and 2007. In all, he has held office for nearly 14 years. This, in spite of spending a similar number of years in the political wilderness during the 1981-95 period of Sikh militancy in Punjab.

After Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela, Badal has been one of the longest-serving political prisoners in the world, having spent nearly 17 years of his life in jails. 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 the 1980s, fighting for the rights of Punjab and its people.

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 has taken oath as chief minister five times under the same constitution.

Born Dec 8, 1927, Badal, largely owes his fifth term to his son and political heir Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is the Shiromani Akali Dal president. Sukhbir steered the Akali Dal-BJP combine to victory in the just-concluded Punjab assembly polls.

This is the first time in over four decades in Punjab that a political party has returned to office for a second consecutive term.

Badal 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.

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

During the run-up to the January 30 assembly polls, Badal clearly told people that this would be the last election of his political career.

Badal was married to Surinder Kaur, who died 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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