Welfare was always our priority'

Print edition : April 06, 2012

Interview with Sukhbir Badal, president of SAD (Badal).

SUKHBIR BADAL, president of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) and Deputy Chief Minister, has earned a reputation as a doer, a strict administrator, and a guru of election management. But, he is yet to step out of the shadow of his father and Chief Minister, Prakash Singh Badal. After taking the oath of office on March 14, he talked to Frontline about his priorities and strategies. Excerpts:

You are credited with steering single-handedly the SAD-BJP alliance to power again. What are your priorities now?

Administrative reforms are our main focus right now. We have to change the prevailing systems that have allowed corruption to creep in. We want to smoothen decision-making processes through these reforms for the proper implementation of welfare schemes. Hopefully, in one year, you will see that Punjab is the State with the maximum interaction between the public and the government.

What will be your impetus for the agricultural sector, considering an impending agrarian crisis in the State?

We are trying to make our existing agricultural institutions stronger and also build new ones. We are concentrating on various aspects of agriculture. Better irrigation facilities will be our thrust area.

The SAD has promised a lot of sops for the people. How will you raise the resources for that?

We will try it through better compliance and the use of modern technology. We will try to raise resources through various methods, one of which could be public-private partnership.

These elections are also victories of yatras. Akhilesh Yadav [in Uttar Pradesh] went on a cycle yatra and you did a Punjab Vikas Yatra.

Our yatra was not an isolated thing. In fact, it was not a yatra at all. The Akali Dal is always on the move, always on the ground, unlike the Congress party. Our leadership is always with the people. That was the reason people compared our governance with that of the Congress, and it was a landslide victory for us.

You have earned a reputation as a good election manager.

I don't agree. People have judged our performance. People used to have different priorities 20 years ago, but today they judge you only by performance. They have elected back only those governments whose performance was good.

An urban agenda, representation for Hindus, welfare schemes for people other than Jat-Sikhs. When did this shift come in the SAD's ideology?

Welfare was always our priority. As times change, priorities of people change, priorities of India also change and, similarly, priorities of parties also change. It will be something different 20 years later. We, too, are changing according to the times. Today, the priority of the people is only development.

I agree that we were perceived as being an exclusively Jat-Sikh party, but that perception was not real. We used to contest 50 per cent of the urban constituencies every time. But yes, we have included more number of people from other communities and that has given us a lot of strength. This time we gave the party ticket to 11 Hindus. We have understood the problems of Dalits and have pledged to work for all sections of society.

Do you need the BJP even now, when you are addressing its core constituencies also?

Our alliance with the BJP is not a political alliance. Ours is an emotional and a permanent alliance. Our relationship has been such that we don't look at benefits and losses. In Punjab, there is no difference between the Akali and BJP cadre.

One of the main allegations against you in these elections was that the Akali Dal used its sarpanchs as vote contractors.

How will you buy votes? No one can buy votes.

It is alleged that your party has turned into one run by the Badals and other powerful families in Punjab. That it is no more a cadre-based ideological party.

No one can control politics. If people like the candidate, they vote for him. There are people like Capt. Amarinder Singh, who fielded his son [Raninder Singh] in this election, but he lost. Captain was projected as the chief ministerial candidate. Even then, his son lost. People vote [for a candidate] only if they like a candidate's performance and personality.

How do you plan to tackle the Congress as the opposition now?

There is no opposition at all. If you see, they neither work on the ground nor are connected with the people. They do not even appeal to the government about the problems of the people. They just go into hibernation.

When do we see your promotion as Chief Minister?

I cannot answer that question. Only the party will decide that.

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