Saturday, 25 July, 2009

Akali Politics in Dumb Times

Akali Politics in Dumb TimesSansardeep Singh Wanjara
On Tuesday, out of blue, Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal dropped a bombshell. Right in the middle of his election campaign in Jalalabad, where he is fighting to become an MLA to take up his Deputy CM perch to eventually sit in the CM’s chair, Sukhbir, in true ‘Kaka ji’ fashion, pulled out an issue that most had thought Akali Dal has completely forgotten.
“Disband the Bhakhra Beas Management Board,” he said at a rally. “Hand over the BBMB to Punjab,” the next rally was told. “The Central government is robbing Punjab of its share through control of BBMB,” he said at another rally.
Jalalabad often suffers because of water shortage. In the years preceding the election, neither son Sukhbir, nor papa Badal, mentioned a word about BBMB. Entire stress is often on turning Malwa into California, and little is explained as to how a five star hotel in water starved Bathinda will help.
But what makes the Badals, and consequently the Akali Dal, the party that lords over the Punjab Government, the SGPC, and in the given circumstances, even the top temporal seats, completely forget Akali, Sikh, Punjab issues and then gives them the cheek to fish out suddenly the matter of BBMB or of Congress’ interference in Sikh affairs?
It is largely, and not only, the disconnect between the people and the politician’s politics, but also our disinclination to track issues and ask questions, stay engaged and be the watchmen. In the fashion of Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony, we tend often to let our minds and ideas to be ruled by the dominant social class represented by the mainstream politician, by the Badals among the Sikhs, by the Gandhis and the corporate world in India.
“Politics is a dirty cesspool,” we are told. And we believe it. In this dirty cesspool, the politician’s success is in managing to ensure that his ideas are seen as the norm, as a sort of accepted universal ideology. So we all almost tend to agree, in our drawing rooms, in our gurdwaras, and even in family discussions with our kids, that politics is a dirty cesspool.
In this dirty cesspool, we rarely ask ourselves, how come a Sukhbir Singh Badal, who remains so dedicated to serve the people of Punjab and the panth and spends every hour in thinking how to better their lot, manages to earn an astonishing amount of income? By sheer business sense, one is to presume.
He came from the US after the heat of the Sikh aspirational movement was over and almost directly plunged into social service, serving the panth in the great tradition of his father. The 47-year-old, while fully immersed in the service of the panth, has now said he currently has Rs 3.50 lakh in cash, Rs 1.16 crore in deposits in banks and financial institutions, Rs 20.27 crore in bonds and debentures of Orbit Resorts and other companies, Rs 4.35 lakh in jewellery, Rs 4.45 crore in Metro Plaza and loans extended to his wife, brother-in-law MLA Bikram Singh Majithia etc and Rs 4.80 lakh in horses.
This is apart from Rs 3.95 crore in agriculture land, including 39.6 acres of land in village Badal, 14 biswas in Rajasthan’s Sadulshahr, 28 acres in Balasar and 3.68 acres in Rania in Haryana. Add to this 7.6 acres of land leased to Punjab national Bank in Badal village, a petrol pump, Taj Motors, shops, cattle sheds, another 5.5 acre in Balasore for a farm house of 11,450 square feet, a residential bungalow in Chandigarh’s Sector 9, a house and stud farm in Badal village, a 15 per cent share in an SCO in Sector 9 of Chandigarh, a commercial flat in Narain Manzil on Barakhamba Road. And we are not going into his air conditioners and furniture and fixtures though we have the details, all provided by him as per rules to the Election Commission of India.
To be fair, Sukhbir is no different from other politicians, and they all have to provide these details when they have to fight any election. The point is that all these details become public knowledge only when the politician is forced to provide them. While Sukhbir is completely within his rights to run his business affairs with as much acumen as he can manage, the people too are completely in their own right when they have a sense of wonder at the personal development of the House of Badals.
But what perturbs the ordinary Sikh is when these politicians tend to apply the same norms to their conduct as Akali Dal leaders. Sukhbir and every other Akali leader harks back to the great ideals of Sikhism and the glorious traditions of the Sikh quom when it comes to garnering Sikh votes. The long forgotten agendas of river waters, Chandigarh and BBMB are pulled out of the bag to lure people and play on their insecurities, but only to get their votes and then forget all for another five years.
In these times of dumbing down, the politician is the one who is succeeding more in dumbing us down. We owe it to our future generations to resist and turn back and ask, “But where were you earlier?” We need to engage and ask, “But how did you become the leader?” We do this in this edition on Page 12-13, and promise to do it on a regular basis.

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