In Malwa, The Stories Of Sidhu Moose Wala, Gurdas Mann Combine With Politics Of Badals

Harsimrat goes strong in Bathinda after home turf loss to AAP in 2022

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SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal with wife and SAD MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal at Parliament House complex during Budget Session on March 14, 2023 Photo: Getty Images

One of Punjab’s prominent women politicians and three-time MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, seems to be holding the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) fortress at Bathinda. She is both articulate and a vocal leader rooted deep in the Malwa’s politics. She enjoys an amazing connection with her masses in this fertile land being prepared for the next paddy crop.

Bathinda is also the soil where noted Punjabi singer and performer Gurdas Mann, born at village Giddarbaha, became popular for songs of romance like "Dil Da Mamla Hai" in 1980s, also recorded and performed on the song "Ki Banu Dunia Da". It is also here  where 'Sidhu Moose Wala'--- Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, Punjabi rapper and singer, fell to the bullets in May 2022.

But on a political scale, the region of Malwa has written and re-written several stories of love and hate, the rivalries and party hopping.

Campaigning single-handedly in Bathinda—second largest district after Ludhiana, and a host to Guru Nanak Dev Thermal plant and one of biggest oil refineries of India Badal vociferously speaks on Punjab’s regional aspirations, which she says were being constantly undermined by the national parties, including BJP.

Her Sikh-centric party, once BJP’s oldest alliance partner, seems to be struggling against multiple odds. The party has come down from four Lok Sabha seats in 2014 to two in 2019 and then facing a total wipe-out in 2022 assembly polls. The party is banking highly on the legacy of Akali Dal patriarch Prakash Singh Badal, an architect of grand alliance with Hindu-centric Bharatiya Janata Party, fostering trust among diverse Punjabi communities.

A gradual erosion of its base despite being one of country’s oldest party had led to Badal Sr ‘s defeat at Lambi— Malwa’s political hot-bed in 2022 polls—the party winning just three seats in the 117 member assembly against 56 in 2012 to form its government – a record second time. This was the only time in Punjab after 1966-67 when a ruling party had returned to power.

The party‘s generational change, that is the emergence of Sukhbir Badal as a young leader on Punjab ‘s horizon, however did not go well with the masses. It even resulted in fragmentation of the party’s core leadership. This was the biggest jolt to the Punjab-based party that had always survived against the centre’s dominance. The SAD had been alternating power with the Congress and also sustained its alliance with the BJP.

Badal died in 2023 at the age of 95 marking the end of an era in Punjab politics.

How the party’s decline started during the last days of Badal’s stewardship, is a fact which many Punjabi scholars can recount on their tips. The foremost being SAD’s notable shift from a regional party to a “family affair” –a ‘Chautala model’ as many call it. That led to a complete disconnect with the masses in Punjab, both farmers and Sikhs.

Jagroop Singh Shekhon, a professor at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar says “rise of Sukhbir Badal as a young face and inheritor of the party between 2007-2012, saw a lot of churning in the Akalis. Badal started inducting close family members and relatives in the party and put them at key positions in the government."

Some of the old hands and long-time associates of Prakash Singh Badal like Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, Prem Singh Chandumajra, Jagdev Singh Talwandi are few names who left Badal and distanced from Shiromani Akali Dal.

As Per Prof Shekhon this marginalised some of the party stalwarts primarily due to Sukhbir Badal’s approach. Furthermore Sukhbir Badal brought in those elements in the party whose credentials were highly suspicious. This resulted in a series of gang-wars, drug trafficking, corruption and blatant misuse of power .These ‘ultra-elements’, says Prof Shekhon, dented the party image and even put the BJP leaders in quandary. 

Though, the big flash-point in the SAD- BJP alliance came after the farmers’ protest against three farm laws that also led to resignation of Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the NDA government but the relations between two parties had soured much earlier, says Lovely Kaushal, a journalist in Sangrur. 

BJP candidate from Ludhiana Ravneet Singh Bittu, a three-time congress MP says role of Akali Dal during the farm laws remained dubious. The party initially gave a different feed-back to the central government. When it realised that things could turn against them they did a complete summersault. The protests at Delhi borders had support and patronage of the AAP since being in power in Delhi.

The SAD hoped to make gains in the 2022 assembly polls by calling off its alliance with the BJP but failed to regain farmers' trust. By then, the AAP was already encashing on farmers’ protest. The problem of unemployment, corruption and drugs were icing on the cake for the AAP. The promises like employment, free power, crackdown on drug mafia and corruption helped the party’s victory win 92 to 117 seats.

The SAD under Sukhbir Badal is not the same as it was when his father—Badal Sr was at the helm of affairs.

“Badal Sr was a different politician. In his lifetime, he saw the creation of modern-day Punjab after the partition in 1947.Thereafter ,he was witness to trifurcation of the Punjab to Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The period of militancy and bloodshed also passed through his eyes. He played a pivotal role in stabilising peace in the state,” says senior Punjab-cadre IAS, who has also served as secretary in the government of India.


After talks failed with the BJP to rebuild the party's poll tie-up with BJP, the SAD is defining itself as a regional player and contesting all 13 Lok Sabha seats. Going solo also marks SAD’s return to core principles as Sikh-centric political party in Punjab.

At her poll rally Maur Kalan, Harsimrat Kaur Badal says SAD is going to sweep the polls. This election will mark the re-emergence of the SAD. There is strong anti-incumbency against AAP and BJP has no feet to stand in Punjab. The AAP completely made fools of people. They have started realising as being taken for a ride by Kejriwal and Mann. The corruption under the AAP is rampant. 


“AAP MLA was caught red-handed in a corruption case and has returned from Jail. Another MLA is also facing a corruption case. Now, they have been made star campaigners. I wonder why the central government, which has acted against Arvind Kejriwal in the liquor scam, has spared Bhagwant Mann. Same kind of excise scam has happened in Punjab” she alleged.

Badal recalls Rahul Gandhi’s controversial remarks about 70 per cent of youths in Punjab as drug addicts. Thereafter, the Congress government, which did propaganda against the SAD government, on making Punjab a drug state, patronised the drug trade. The AAP government has gone a step further making “home deliveries” of drugs. Today, anyone can buy “chitta” in the streets of every village. The drug menace has increased 10-fold during the tenures the Congress and AAP governments.


On BJP, Harsimrat Kaur Badal said the BJP will get totally wiped-out from Punjab. The farmers are not allowing their candidates to enter villages because they went back on promises made with the farmers. The farmers are still sitting at the borders but neither AAP nor BJP’s central government has stepped in to resolve the issue.

“This election will see a strong regional player as national parties are not trustworthy. Punjab's interests are safe in the hands of Akali Dal only,” he told the audience at her poll rally.

The election scenes at Bathinda have an interesting spice for the political feat. Badal faces sitting minister and AAP MLA Gurmeet Singh Khuddian, who had shot into fame by defeating Parkash Singh Badal in 2022 state polls at Lambi. He had been in the SAD led by Simranjit Singh Mann, thereafter went to the congress and finally returned to the AAP. His father Jathedar Jagdev Singh Khuddian was Member of Parliament from Faridkot in 1989.


An old associate of SAD and former MLA Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu has been fielded by the Congress. He had joined the SAD before the 2014 parliamentary polls and helped Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Last years, he had returned to the Congress and now in the fray first time at Bathinda.

The BJP has given ticket to Parampal Kaur, who resigned as IAS officer to contest the poll. She is daughter-in-law of SAD veteran Sikander Singh Maluka.