The Badals of Punjabhttps://indianexpress.com/elections/punjab-assembly-elections-2017/punjab-polls-parkash-singh-badal-sukhbir-singh-badal-majithia-the-badals-of-punjab-4496456/

The Badals of Punjab

From being the country’s youngest ever chief minister in 1970 to its oldest in 2017, 89-year-old Parkash Singh Badal’s hold over Punjab has few parallels. So does the family’s.

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Through marriage, the Badals have subsumed the state’s other two most powerful dynasties, the Majithias and Kairons.

Their electoral might, financial clout and ties forged by marriage make them Punjab’s first family. VARINDER BHATIA & NAVJEEVAN GOPAL trace what got them here as Parkash Singh Badal leads the Badals into what is possibly his last electoral battle.

FROM being the country’s youngest ever chief minister in 1970 to its oldest in 2017, 89-year-old Parkash Singh Badal’s hold over Punjab has few parallels. So does the family’s.

Through marriage, the Badals have subsumed the state’s other two most powerful dynasties, the Majithias and Kairons. By winning the elections in 2012, they showed they could buck predictions and Punjab history by being voted back to power. And over the past two terms, they have successfully branched into flourishing businesses, in transport, hospitality, media and renewable energy.

As he heads into what may be his last electoral battle, on February 4, battling anti-incumbency and Punjab’s drug menace, Badal Sr remains a presence, but so is Badal Inc.

Parkash Singh Badal, 89

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BA from Forman Christian College, Lahore
MLA, Lambi
Assets worth Rs 14.48 crore, as per 2017 electoral affidavit

Having started out as a sarpanch, Badal has headed the state a record five times now, starting 1970. He has been elected to the Assembly continuously since 1969, except in 1992, when he led an Akali boycott of the elections. He has been undefeated from the Lambi Assembly seat since 1997, but faces a test this time from the Congress’s CM candidate, Amarinder Singh, and the AAP’s Jarnail Singh.

While son Sukhbir has been waiting in the wings for 10 years now, there remains no substitute for the 89-year-old for the Akalis due to his hold over party veterans as well as the people. His energy unflagging, in the run-up to his 11th Assembly contest, Badal reached out to villagers through ‘sangat darshans’.

In a party founded on religion, Badal has also balanced the Panthic agenda against extremist demands, by taking control of the elected SGPC through the Akali Dal. The Badal government launched the smart village project from Rode, the native village of Khalistan militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and in June 2015, facilitated transfer of Sikh militants to jails in Punjab from other states. In the wake of the tampering incidents involving the Guru Granth Sahib, it took Badal Sr’s persuasive skills to tamp down some of the Sikh anger.

Partnership with the BJP has given the Akalis space at the Centre, and they remain the saffron party’s most steadfast allies. Despite the Akalis seen as fighting massive anti-incumbency, the BJP has let them have the upper hand in the alliance. The seat-sharing remains the same as in 2012, with the Akalis contesting 94 seats and the BJP 23. Addressing a rally in Jalandhar on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed Badal again, saying he had learnt a lot from him.

Badal started projecting Sukhbir as his heir a while back, and credited the 2012 win to his “poll strategy”. A senior Akali leader says, “As the results started tickling in then and it became evident that the Akali Dal-BJP alliance would form the government again, two aircraft were arranged for the Badal family to go pay obeisance at Golden Temple. Sukhbir guided his father to the bigger aircraft, congratulating him on becoming CM again. In Amritsar, Badal offered that Sukhbir become CM, but Sukhbir said it was Badal’s victory and he should continue.”

In 2008, Sukhbir replaced his father as Akali president. While he now calls the shots on party candidates and has a say in the decisions of the government, the face of the government remains Parkash Singh Badal.

Akali insiders admit that despite talk of transfer of power to the son, the status quo may continue as Sukhbir, it is feared, may not be able to keep the party united or retain its core voter base. Badal has also made his dislike for Sukhbir’s brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia, who is very close to him, evident. At the January 2013 NRI Sammelan in Phagwara, Badal had publicly ticked off Majithia, saying he had got everything “on a platter”.

Badal has only one sibling, brother Gurdas Singh Badal, now estranged. Apart from Sukhbir, he has one other child, daughter Parneet Kaur. If Sukhbir is married into the Majithias, Parneet’s husband belongs to the Kairon family. Badal lost his wife Surinder Kaur on May 24, 2011, to prolonged illness.

Sukhbir Singh Badal, 54

MA (Hons) in Economics from Panjab University, MBA from California State University, Los Angeles
MLA, Jalalabad
Assets worth Rs 102.05 crore (wife’s assets included), as per 2017 electoral affidavit

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Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir singh Badal. (File photo)

After an MBA from the US, Sukhbir returned to Punjab and entered politics in 1996 via Parliament, serving several stints in the Lok Sabha and one in the Rajya Sabha before becoming the Akali Dal president in 2008.

A year later, Sukhbir was inducted as Deputy CM given Badal Sr’s advancing age and, as the government put it, his “business acumen and vision for development of Punjab”. Few in the party protested.

In the 2012 Assembly elections, Sukhbir won with the highest margin in the state, from Jalalabad (50,246 votes). This time, he is up against one of the most prominent AAP candidates, Bhagwant Mann, from the same seat. The Congress candidate here is MP Ravneet Bittu, a close aide of Rahul Gandhi.

While the family has been in the transport business for decades, the range of interests it has now is credited to Sukhbir. Badal Sr continues to list agriculture as his primary source of income in electoral affidavits.

In his 2004 parliamentary polls affidavit, Sukhbir revealed shares worth Rs 5.48 crore in Orbit Resorts Limited, which became a public incorporated company in 1988. In 2017, as per his affidavit, Sukhbir owns shares worth Rs 9.48 crore in the company while wife Harsimrat has shares worth Rs 12 crore. Orbit Resorts deals in hotels, camping sites and other short-stay accommodations.

Since 2007, the family’s primary transport business has grown exponentially. The Badals have majority stake in at least four transport companies, with Orbit Aviation Private Limited, in which Sukhbir has a stake, the flagship firm. Incorporated three months after the Akali-BJP government came to power, Orbit Aviation is now one of the leading private transporters in the state.

The directors of Orbit Aviation include Sukhbir’s brother-in-law Gurmehar Majithia and family loyalists Mohd Rafiq and Mohd Jameel. Rafiq and Jameel hold coveted positions in most of the Badal-owned businesses.

Says Mangat Khan, an activist of the Joint Action Committee comprising unions of drivers, conductors and workers, “In July last year, the Badals also took over Rajdhani Bus Transport Company. Subsequently, the time-table was tweaked and 712 minutes meant for state transport undertaking buses were allocated to private buses, most of them now belonging to the Badals… Earlier, there was a ratio of 60:40 in favour of state transport buses. Now, 60 per cent are private buses.”

Bathinda bus operators’ union leader Khushkaran Singh says that the Badal-backed Indo-Canadian Transport Company holds monopoly on the lucrative route between IGI Airport in Delhi and Punjab. The route had been declared by the state government as “non-viable” in 2012.

The losses of the government-run Punjab Roadways, meanwhile, have been steadily rising, to Rs 112.19 crore in 2014-15.

Responding to charges of monopoly, Sukhbir said in a recent interview to The Indian Express, “If out of 10,000 buses, the Badal family operates 100, is it monopolisation?… You will say IndiGo is monopolising airlines. Is Air-India giving better services or IndiGo? Do you want to return to the bad days of Communism, where everything was nationalised? Has any transporter come and said I harassed him?”

Badal Sr too has addressed concerns over the family’s control of the transport business by saying all records are “open to everybody”. “Everyone’s business is audited by the Income Tax department. Did anyone complain to any authority?”

Last month, a super-luxury resort called Sukhvilas, a joint venture of the Badal-owned Metro Eco Green Resort Private Limited and Oberoi Group, opened near Mullanpur in Chandigarh’s periphery. Three years earlier, coinciding with the start of the construction of Sukhvilas, the government had amended the masterplan of Mullanpur to name it ‘New Chandigarh’, setting off a race among real-estate giants Omaxe and DLF for housing and commercial projects there. In 2015, the government laid a road that now connects the area to the six-lane Chandigarh-Kurali highway. From where that road stops, a private approach track leads to Sukhvilas Resort, where premium rooms cost Rs 35,000 a night and luxury villas Rs 5 lakh.

Apart from Metro Eco Green, the Badals own Orbit Resorts Private Limited. In the interview to the Express, Sukhbir denied any “conflict of interest”. Defending the projects, he said, “I have invested in the economy of Punjab. Now people from Delhi and other places are coming to stay there.”

Harsimrat Kaur Badal, 50

Diploma in Textile Designing from South Delhi Polytechnic
MP, Bathinda
Assets worth Rs 102.05 crore (husband’s assets included), as per 2017 electoral affidavit

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The daughter of Satyajit and Sukhmanjus Majithia, Harsimrat got married to Sukhbir on November 21, 1991. The Majithia clan traces its glory back to eminence during the regime of legendary Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Harsimrat’s grandfather Surjit Singh Majithia served as deputy defence minister and was elected to the Lok Sabha thrice, including in the first polls after Independence, in 1952.

In 2009, Harsimrat became the first woman in the Badal clan to enter politics. In a prestige battle at Bathinda, she defeated Amarinder Singh’s son Raninder Singh by 1.2 lakh votes. After two unsuccessful polls, Raninder has not been fielded this time, and is facing investigation for alleged violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act.

In 2014, Harsimrat beat Sukhbir’s cousin and family rebel Manpreet Singh Badal from the same constituency, winning another coveted battle for the party. Manpreet, once Badal Sr’s favourite, had contested as a joint candidate of his People’s Party of Punjab and Congress. Her two wins got Harsimrat a place in the Modi Cabinet, and as Union Minister for Food Processing, she has proved no pushover either in the House or in party matters.

In April 2015, Harsimrat contested Rahul Gandhi’s statement in the Lok Sabha on hardships faced by Punjab farmers. She has also taken on cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Harsimrat is a majority stakeholder in the Badal-owned transport and hospitality businesses. Out of her total declared assets of Rs 29.67 crore in Sukhbir’s 2017 election affidavit, over Rs 12 crore comes from equity shares of Orbit Resorts alone.

Harsimrat also runs the Nanhi Chhaan project. Launched in August 2008, Nanhi Chhaan Foundation is a non-profit organisation that tackles issues such as gender ratio, environmental degradation and communalism. It was launched by private pharma company Ranbaxy in association with the SGPC and Punjab state government.

Of Harsimrat and Sukhbir’s three children, two are in a school in Delhi while Harkirat Kaur is studying in the UK.

Bikram Singh Majithia, 41

Graduate from St Stephen’s College, Delhi
MLA, Majitha
Assets worth Rs 24.98 crore (wife’s assets included), as per 2017 electoral affidavit

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Punjab Revenue and Public Relations Minister Bikram Singh Majithia

Top Akali leaders say that it was only because of Harsimrat that brother Bikram Majithia, her youngest sibling, entered politics in 2007. Subsequently, at 31, he became the youngest minister in Punjab. Now holding the portfolios of Revenue, Rehabilitation and Disaster Management, Information and Public Relations and Non-Conventional Energy, Majithia has remained a controversial figure in the past two Akali terms.

In January 2014, an alleged drug racket kingpin and dismissed Punjab Police DSP, Jagdish Bhola, accused Majithia of patronising the drug trade in Punjab. Many in the BJP held the controversy surrounding Majithia responsible for senior leader Arun Jaitley’s embarrassing defeat from Amritsar in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, despite the Modi wave.

Although no charges have ever been proved against Majithia, the Opposition has concentrated its attacks on him in these polls. Both Arvind Kejriwal and Amarinder have vowed to send Majithia to jail if voted to power. In a crucial message, Rahul chose the Majitha Assembly constituency to name Amarinder as the Congress’s CM candidate last week. Kejriwal is set to address two rallies here before campaigning draws to a close.

While Harsimrat may have ensured that Majithia remains under Badal protective cover, there is no doubt now that the Majithias and Kairons have come to play second fiddle in comparison in the state.

In July 2015, at a function at their Khalsa College in Amritsar where Badal was the chief guest, Satyajit Majithia (Bikram and Harsimrat’s father) sought financial grant for the college. In a public put-down, Badal said, “I have already given so much to your family by making your son a Cabinet minister, your daughter a Union minister and your son-in-law the deputy CM.”

While Bikram Majithia’s affidavit mentions his primary occupation as agriculturist and politician, his elder brother Gurmehar Singh and father Satyajit are directors in companies, including Saraya Renewable Energy Private Limited, that deal in renewable energy and power plants. This has been questioned as Majithia holds the Renewable Energy portfolio in the Badal government.

In Orbit Aviation in which Sukhbir and Harsimrat have major stakes, Gurmehar was appointed director in 2007.

In 2009, Majithia got married to Ganieve Kaur Grewal, the daughter of a Delhi-based industrialist. The couple have two sons.

Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, 57

Masters in Economics, Berkeley; MBA from Northwestern University, US
MLA, Patti
Assets worth Rs 53.21 crore (wife’s assets included), as per 2017 electoral affidavit

The grandson of undivided Punjab’s CM Sardar Partap Singh Kairon and the son of Surinder Singh Kairon, a prominent leader of Punjab’s Majha area, both Congress leaders, Adesh Partap is now more famous as Parkash Singh Badal’s son-in-law. He holds the Punjab Food & Civil Supplies portfolio.

Patti, which Adesh represents now, is the Kairon family’s ancestral seat. Partap Kairon is widely hailed as one of Punjab’s most visionary CMs and, after his demise, Indira Gandhi offered the seat to wife Ram Kaur in 1967. In 1969, 1972, Surinder contested from Patti and won. Adesh contested from here first in 1997, after getting married to Badal’s daughter Parneet Kaur and joining the Akali Dal, and has since won it four more times.

However, in 2012, he barely scraped through against the Congress’s Harminder Singh Gill, winning by just 59 votes. The last results as well as the presence of Gill along with an AAP candidate in the race mean Adesh faces a tough contest this time.

Adesh’s wife Parneet and mother Kusum Kumari own companies Shivalik Electricals and Shivalik Telecom, in which he too has shares. Shivalik Electricals is involved in transmission and distribution of power across Punjab, and has earned contracts from the state Power Department worth a few hundred crores in the last 10 years.

Adesh and Parneet have two sons.

Manpreet Singh Badal, 54

Express Opinion

LL.B. Hons, University of London
Congress candidate from
Bathinda Urban
Assets worth Rs 40.37 crore (wife’s assets included), as per 2017 electoral affidavit

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Manpreet is the son of Parkash Singh Badal’s brother Gurdas Singh Badal. Till the time they were one united front, he was cheerfully celebrated by the family as the most educated Badal. It were those credentials that earned Manpreet, who entered politics in 1995 as an MLA, the portfolio of Finance in 2007.

By 2010, Manpreet’s relations with Sukhbir and the rest of the Akali Dal got strained over the Centre’s conditional loan-waiver offer. Manpreet wanted the Akalis to rationalise freebies. In October 2010, the Akalis announced suspension of Manpreet on anti-party activities, though he claimed he had quit.

In 2011, Manpreet floated the People’s Party of Punjab. Although it didn’t win any seats in the 2012 polls, with Manpreet himself losing too, it got 6 per cent of the votes. The BJP in comparison got 7.18 per cent votes. The PPP was believed to have effectively blocked the Congress way to power by taking away a crucial chunk of the anti-Badal vote.

Among the PPP candidates who lost in 2012 was Manpreet’s father Gurdas, who took on the elder Badal from Lambi.

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A year ago, Manpreet merged his party with the Congress.  Manpreet and wife Vinu’s two children, Arjun and Riya, study in the US.