Punjab's Leader of Opposition Sunil Kumar Jakhar was last week part of a delegation led by Badal, the politically tallest Akali Dal leader in Punjab, to the Planning Commission to seek a Rs 3,357-crore package for resolving the water-logging problem in southwest Punjab.
Jakhar, a polished and soft-spoken Congress leader and son of former Lok Sabha speaker Balram Jakhar, even bent to touch Badal's feet in the presence of Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to seek his blessings. Punjab's PR machinery was quick to grab the photo-op and splash it in the media. Needless to say, the photograph led to major heartburn among top Congress leaders, even though they refrained from publicly criticizing Jakhar's actions.
For Jakhar, Badal, who is going to be 86 this December, is a contemporary of his father. When Badal became the Punjab chief minister in the 1970s, Balram Jakhar was the leader of opposition in the state assembly.
Former union law minister and Congress' Rajya Sabha MP Ashwani Kumar, who had to unceremoniously exit from the cabinet in May, extended a personal invitation to Badal to inaugurate an old-age home in Gurdaspur. Badal presided over the function but left a few Congress leaders fuming. Punjab Congress president Pratap Singh Bajwa also comes from Gurdaspur district and the bonhomie between Badal and Ashwani Kumar did not go down well with the Bajwa camp.
A few months ago, union minister Jairam Ramesh became the darling of the Punjab government as he toured parts of the state with Deputy Chief Minister and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal to get first-hand knowledge of what the rural areas needed.
Just a couple of month ago, Congress legislators had started storming Badal's 'Sangat Darshan' (meeting the public) programmes. The idea was not as much to get work done but to embarrass Badal and gain political mileage out of it.
Badal, who is a shrewd politician and five-time chief minister, was quick to seize advantage of his friendly happy feelings with two top Congress leaders. He claimed that he was always "for cooperation and consensus" with opposition leaders rather than that "of confrontation and vendetta".
In Punjab, the acrimony between the Badals and Congress leaders, especially former chief minister Amarinder Singh and Bajwa, is well known.
Badal has gone on record to state that Punjab Congress leaders were not only sabotaging development and welfare projects being sought from the central government but were even telling union ministers not to meet and share the stage with Badal and other Akali leaders.
Rather than indulging in political one-upmanship based on their personal egos, Punjab's leaders, both Akalis and Congress ones , could do well to collectively help the state and its people.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--IANS (Posted on 11-10-2013)