In five years after taking over, Sukhbir Badal (51) has got his party into winning habits. His biggest triumph was when the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance (2007-2012) was returned to power last March. This was the first time in over 45 years that an incumbent government had won a second consecutive term.
The Akali Dal expanded its base beyond Punjab for the first time in February when it won the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) elections, routing the Congress-backed leadership. With this foothold, the Akali Dal is all set to claim its share of electoral pie from alliance partner BJP in the forthcoming Delhi assembly elections. Delhi has many pockets where Sikh voters wield influence.
Sukhbir Badal is credited with drawing up the strategies to win the Punjab and DSGMC elections. In Punjab, the party has triumphed in municipal and panchayat elections as well. It has gone on to win by-elections to assembly seats as well. In neighbouring Haryana, the Akali Dal won its first assembly seat the Oct 2009 elections.
Sukhbir Badal's control over the party and the government is absolute. Even though his father, Parkash Singh Badal, 85, is the chief minister, the younger, who is the deputy chief minister, calls the shots.
A successful billionaire businessman himself with interests in 5-star hotels, resorts, media, agriculture and other sectors, Badal junior is seen as running the Akali Dal in a corporate way. The party, which was earlier identified with ageing leaders with flowing grey beards, now dons a young, modern outlook - right from its headquarters, which was given a corporate office look, to encouraging young leaders.
Sukhbir Badal also ensured that the Akali Dal was not tagged a Sikh party. In the last assembly poll, it fielded 11 Hindu candidates - something unheard of earlier in Akali circles. Nine of them won.
The Akali Dal, set up in 1920, is the country's second oldest party after the Indian National Congress (INC).
As Sukhbir Badal's political career graph has soared since 2008, the opposition Congress looks in even greater disarray, with the infighting among its top leaders refusing to die down.
Having achieved quite a bit in his young political career, it is from here that Sukhbir Badal will need to tread cautiously. After all, to realise his slogan "Raj Karaange Pachhi Saal" (We will rule for 25 years), Badal junior will have to put more political strategies into shape.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--IANS (Posted on 07-09-2013)