January 27, 2012 3:49:34 am
On October 13,2010,the day he quit as Punjab Finance Minister and resigned from the Shiromani Akali Dal,Manpreet Badal bought himself a white Toyota Fortuner. Little would he have realised that the vehicle,which he prefers to drive himself most of the time,would clock 1.9 lakh km over the next 15 months. Now,as he drives across narrow,dirty village tracks in Malwa,campaigning for Peoples Party of Punjab,Manpreet appears to be sending out a larger message: that Punjab needs change and he is their vehicle of change.
His day begins early. Planning at least four jalsas (public meetings) per day,Manpreet,in his trademark yellow turban,tries to hit the road by 7.30 am. On some days,he ends up wrapping up his first jalsa by 8.30-9 am. And while many in these rural areas are just curious to have a glimpse of the rebel Badal,their numbers,in spite of the cold,are giving him a lot of hope.
They listen to me with a lot of grace and patience. And when I look into their eyes,I feel they are in a mood to write a new story this time, he says,getting behind the wheel and slowly making his way out of Deon village in Bathinda (Rural),a newly created reserved constituency from where the CPIs Surjit Singh Sohi is contesting. Minutes earlier,he had told a decent gathering in Deon that Punjab has become sick with cancer and cancer cannot be cured with Crocin.
Talking of cure,he is trying his best to soothe his frayed vocal chords due to a cyst in his throat,by sipping honey-and-ginger syrup from a bottle given by a well-wisher.
He slows down as soon as he hits the main road and uses the time to catch up on the newspapers. What happened at the dera yesterday,Chacha? he asks one of his lieutenants seated behind. Briefed on the details from the events at Dera Sacha Sauda,Manpreet turns his attention back on the road. His next stops are Sangat Mandi and Kot Shamir in Bathinda.
We havent got the right to vote in charity…we have got it after a lot of difficulty, he tells the audience,peppering his speeches with Allama Iqbals Urdu couplets and invoking Shaheed Bhagat Singh every now and then.
Then come the important announcements. Within 30 minutes of us forming the government,well impose an education emergency, he tells the crowd. He also promises one lakh jobs a year.
Ill end all extravagant expenditures of the government, he goes on,each time underlining that having been finance minister,he knows where all the money goes. Our non-Plan expenditure is around Rs 30,000 crore. Ill divert five per cent of this to education, he later explains to The Indian Express.
Taking care not to name his rivals in his speeches,Manpreet tries to make the larger point,saying both Akalis and the Congress have fixed turns for each other and that this time this system will not work.
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