POLL VAULT 2012

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4. Punjab

Keeping It All In The Family

Pedigree, not merit, has been the norm in Punjab. Sai Manish on the continuing Akali soap opera

Father & Son The CM has his son as his Deputy
Father & Son: The CM has his son as his Deputy, Photo: Prabhjot Singh Gill

THE FACT that Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has his son Sukhbir as Deputy CM is par for the course in Punjab. Just as succeeding generations inherit the wealth and vices of the family, they inherit the political mantle here. Close and distant relatives loom so large in the list of candidates announced by the two parties that the Punjab Assembly election on 30 January looks like one big soap opera.

“The people of Punjab don’t mind family in politics,” says Jassi Khangura, Congress MLA who has been given the Khem Karan ticket. “In any case, the Congress is not even a patch on the Badals. See the favours they showered on their near and dear ones.” Khangura’s father was a member of the India Overseas Congress based in London. His mother Gurdial Kaur contested but lost the Qila Raipur seat in 2002. He was the first one ever to win that seat for the Congress in the 2007 elections.

Last-ditch efforts were made on 3 January, when finalising the list of candidates, to balance the demands of regional strongmen and party old-timers. Like MPsMohinder Kaypee and Pratap Bajwa, who want Assembly seats for their wives from Jalandhar West and Qadian respectively. Also pushing for their children are Congress legislative party leader Rajinder Bhattal and Amarinder’s bitter opponent Jagmeet Brar. While Bhattal’s son-in-law is likely to contest, Brar, a Congress Working Committee member, has pushed for his brother from Muktsar, bordering Rajasthan. Though former chief minister Amarinder Singh has denied that his son was ever in the race for a ticket, his brother Maharaja Malvinder Singh is definitely in the race. Such hard bargaining has put the Congress in a bind, with close to 17 seats (out of 117) to be distributed among the kith and kin of senior leaders, mostly at the expense of those who fared badly in the 2007 Assembly polls. Delays in deciding the final list is bound to affect the party’s chances.

The Akalis have failed to quell the hysteria over the largesse to Badal’s kith and kin

If the Congress has been on an overdrive with its dynasties, the Shiromani Akali Dal is looking to leverage the rural foothold of the entire Badal clan, with even distant relatives finding a place in the final list of candidates. Parkash Badal’s son-in-law Adesh Kairon and Sukhbir Badal’s brother-in-law Bikramjit Majithia will retain their seats, while at least eight other kin of Badals have got tickets across Punjab. Says SAD election committee chairman Sukhdev Dhindsa, “The Badals are a trusted name across Punjab and the people of Punjab trust every single member of the family. We are not promoting anyone. It is just easier for the people to trust leaders from a single family.”

Chandigarh-based political analyst Pramod Kumar agrees. “In Punjab, having someone from the family keeps the trust element high. Pedigree counts more than merit in the state.”

This mindset, though, has caused massive fissures within the Akali Dal, with several leaders like sitting MLA Sant Ajit Singh either contesting as independents or vowing to oppose the Akalis tooth and nail. Unlike the Congress, the Akalis have failed to prevent partymen from going hysterical over the largesse to Badal’s kith and kin. Whether nepotism will become a deciding factor in the polls is yet to be seen.

Sai Manish is a Correspondent with Tehelka. 
sai.manish@tehelka.com

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