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Supremacy Battle In Punjab’s First Family

Despite denials, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s snub to Bikram Majithia indicates the growing rift between his family members as they feud for control

CHANDIGARH – A struggle for supremacy in the first family of Punjab politics has led to eruption of fissures in the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) with the younger guard seen alligned against the old guard, leading to a faceoff.

Observers feel that the innocuous appeals by NRI representatives to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to step down in favour of his son and Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal should be seen in the perspective of the power struggle within the Badal family.

They claim the CM’s hitting out at Revenue Minister and Sukhbir’s brother-in-law Bikram Majithia should also be seen in the same perspective. Badal, who is not known to reveal his mind, chose to “speak out his heart” to re-assert his importance, both in the party as well as the government.

But concentrating power in his own hands will be a struggle for the CM, who, till recent years, was the unrivalled leader in the SAD who even staved off a challenge from the late Gurcharan Singh Tohra.

In the present set-up, Sukhbir and his brother-in-law Majithia, who is entrusted with the Revenue, Public Relations and NRI Affairs ministries, have become all-powerful.The duo has come to dominate the party and the government and is increasingly behind all major initiatives, be it law and order, administrative reforms or revenue generation.

With Badal receding into the background, so have veteran Akali leaders. Leaders like Balwinder Singh Bhundur, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, who used to have their own spheres of influence, have been marginalised.

With Majithia seen to be working in conjunction with Sukhbir along with the latter’s wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the influence of other relatives has dwindled too. The most affected is Food and Civil Supplies Minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, Badal’s son-in-law. He chose to remain away from the recent NRI Sammelan. Kairon’s wife Parneet Kaur has a strong bond with her father. Her husband, though an introvert, is politically ambitious and is believed to be resentful of Majithia’s ascendency in the party.

Sources say Badal chose to groom his son as his heir apparent. Sukhbir claims he is ready to wait to be made CM. But his close advisers are not so charitable. They feel their “boss” has learnt the ropes and after engineering two successive election victories (in 2007 and 2012), he deserves the top slot.

The Sukhbir camp has been campaigning for his “coronation” for more than three years now, ever since he was appointed president of the SAD. They had even come out with dates for his elevation.

By the end of 2010, all attempts to elevate Sukhbir came to a naught due to the rebellion by the then Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal. Under pressure from Manpreet’s People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) and the increased realisation that Badal Senior was the most acceptable face of the party, the SAD was forced to announce him as its chief ministerial candidate in the run-up to the assembly elections. Refuting allegations by the Opposition that this was only a temporary arrangement, Badal announced that if elected to power, he would continue in office for a full five-year term.

Badal Senior is the CM, but Majithia is increasingly seen as the main mover in the government. A troubleshooter, Majithia has earned Sukhbir’s trust, say sources. Majithia has played a key role in stemming the after-effects of Manpreet’s rebellion. He took charge of the Youth Akali Dal (YAD) when it was on the downslide and turned it over to produce impressive results in the assembly elections.

He led the party in the Majha region with good results despite poor projections. Majithia was in the thick “managing” Congress rebels during the assembly elections in January last year and was also instrumental in winning over the loyalties of some Congress leaders.

But this “success” has come at a cost. There is a feeling within the party that Brahmpura, the seniormost Akali leader in the Majha region, saw defeat because he was not in the Majithia camp. Kairon too just about made it. There were allegations that a section of the SAD had worked against him.

Majithia’s bloated YAD executive with persons who have little in common with the Akali ideology has become the party’s bane with some leaders taking law in their own hands and giving a bad name to the party.

Majithia’s decision to speak on law and order (for which he was being targeted by the Opposition) on the floor of the House boomeranged on the SAD and embarrassed the CM with Majithia caught on camera hurling expletives at a Congress legislator.

Sources said the CM, who was uncomfortable with these developments, hit back during the course of the NRI Sammelan organised by Majithia. Those who know the CM say he was riled by the manner in which NRI invitees coaxed him to retire and give over the reins of the state to Sukhbir. As the function was organised by Majithia, the sources said the CM felt that Majithia had orchestrated this campaign.

Hence, Badal Senior, who was not slated to attend the second day of the NRI conference at Jalandhar, chose to do so. Before an international audience and live television coverage and Majithia standing by his side, he chastised the latter, saying: “Tusi kadi jail katti hai? Tuhanu tan pakki pakai mili hai. Hun tusi mere te vi kabza karen nun phirde ho.” (Have you ever been to jail? You have got the minister’s post on a platter. Now, you want to dislodge me too.) .

The CM was apparently annoyed at Majithia chosing to stand by his side rather than being seated with the audience. He also sent out a message that he would continue to lead the government besides using the opportunity to stress that veteran party leaders, who had made sacrifices for the party, were relevant still and should be given “priority”.

Badal’s assertion yesterday that his remarks about Majithia had been made in a lighter vein and had been twisted out of context does not cut ice. Badal is known to drop bomb shells in a lighter vein. This is his style. Majithia, however, has the solace of face-saving, reportedly at Sukhbir’s instance.

Sources claim Majithia might be more circumvent in his dealings in future, but there is little doubt that he, along with Sukhbir, represent the new face of the SAD. The CM is, however, a guarding spirit and a master strategist. The merger of the strengths of the old and the new at CM’s insistence could further strengthen the SAD.

Powerful Duo

Sukhbir and Majithia have become all-powerful. The duo has come to dominate the party and the government and is increasingly behind all major initiatives

‘Coronation’ Noises

Sukhbir’s advisers feel their “boss” has learnt the ropes and after engineering two successive election victories (in 2007 and 2012), he deserves the top slot

Veterans Sidelined

Party old guards such as Balwinder Singh Bhundur, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, who used to have their own spheres of influence, have been marginalised in the new set-up

Sulking Kin

Adesh Partap Singh KaironCivil Supplies Minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, CM’s son-in-law, chose to keep away from the recent NRI Sammelan. An introvert, he is politically ambitious and is believed to be resentful of Majithia’s ascendency in the party

Rising Influence

Harsimrat Kaur BadalHarsimrat, who represents the Bathinda parliamentary constituency, is increasingly emerging as the face of the SAD at the Centre at the cost of other senior leaders. Her hold over her constituency is complete

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