IT IS 8.30 am Saturday and 70-year-old Harmail Singh is busy getting the chairs and a “special’ sofa arranged in the verandah of his house. He has also bought mineral water bottles. Soon, a security team arrives, checks the sofa and other arrangements. A policeman had been standing vigil outside his house for hours already.
Harmail Singh is preparing for a visit by former CM Parkash Singh Badal, who is coming to condole the death of Harmail’s 90-year-old mother Hamir Kaur, who died on July 28. After visiting his home, Badal will make four other condolence visits in the same village. Known for devising the sangat darshan to connect with people by visiting villages, holding meetings where he would both listen to grievances and hand out cash for pre-approved projects, Badal, now out of office and unable to dispense largesse, appears to have substituted sangat darshans with condolence visits. The former CM tours his constituency once a week or every 10 days to condole with families where deaths have taken place.
Village sarpanches or other local leaders keep giving information about the deaths or births in villages to the former CM and accordingly a list is made. Normally, pro-Akali or neutral families are chosen to be visited, say supporters. On Saturday, apart from the five in this village, he made seven other condolence visits in villages Ghumiara and Lambi. Talking with The Indian Express, Badal said, “I cannot tour the whole state and meet each and every family, but I try to stay in touch with my constituency people by being part of their sorrows and happiness. I am in touch with them, unlike the new CM Amarinder Singh who hardly visits the state.”
And unlike at the sangat darshans, which were carefully choreographed and managed by the Akali sarpanch of the village, the condolence visit is a means to meet a more diverse set of people. His tour programme details that among the families he will meet today, four families are from a backward class and three from the scheduled caste. “We have been told that the former CM will come by am, so we are all ready,” said Harmail, a farmer who owns 30 acres of land. He has enough resources to host a former chief minister, and all the arrangements are crammed in his large verandah.
Though Badal is known for being punctual, he is behind schedule on Saturday. His first stop after leaving his house in Badal village was village Ghumiara village, where he condoled with four backward class families. The former CM’s vehicle drove into Harnail’s house around 9.45 am, while his caravan of about 15 other vehicles along with supporters are parked in the lane. As he settles on the sofa, he says: “Main taan afsos karan aaya si, ( I had come to condole) .” Both the former and present sarpanch of the village were present. A few villagers who had also trooped in to Harmail’s house started complaining of poor sewer facilities, broken roads while a farmer complained of notice sent by bank for non-payment of loan.
As the CM rose to leave after spending a minute condoling with Harnail, Badal’s supporters told the villagers that they would get the problems resolved, and the motorcade moved to the house of Labh Singh whose 90-year-old mother Rampiyari had died on August 3. Labh Singh is a scheduled caste, as the tour programme made clear. Badal spent a minute in his kachcha house. Labh Singh had arranged a white tent in the verandah. After Badal left, he said: “My son had also died last year, he condoled both the deaths.” His son Jaswinder Singh said, “No doubt we were never able to meet him like the 10 years when he was CM, but such a great leader coming to our house is a big thing for us.”
Next, Badal went on to the house of Jeewan Singh who was killed in an accident, and rounded off his tour of the village with a visit to the house of Murti Kaur, who was married in Gidderbaha, and died after giving birth to a girl child. This scheduled caste family had a small kachcha with one room and a verandah. However, the family went out of its way to arrange a sofa, fans, chairs and tent on the street outside their home. “I took sofa, fans, chairs etc from nearby neighbours and relatives as I don’t have such things at my home. Entrance to the house is narrow, so we were asked to arrange things in the street itself,” says Iqbal Kaur, Murti’s mother.
As Badal condoled with the family, Preetam Singh, uncle of Murti Kaur, said, “I have been associated with your party since long. I worked for the SC wing.” A villager said Badal was more “available” these days. Another villager said, “We have no issues with Badal Sahib, but his workers were the ones who never allowed us to meet him. Earlier, he used to meet only the main workers of the villages and the party paid well for this in Vidhan Sabha. Now he is meeting the masses, to be one among them.”