CHANDIGARH, Punjab—Having been a Chief Minsiter five times, Parkash Badal has been a prime witness to the most turbulent phases in the recent history of Punjab and the country. He is averse to an autobiography, but not putting his account of events on paper will be a huge loss. ‘People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them’ — Badal is well aware of this. Letting his side of the story out in the public domain will be in public interest.
American Nobel laureate Pearl Buck once said: “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” However, Akali Dal supremo Parkash Badal apparently does not believe in this famed remark. Responding to a query about writing his autobiography last week, Badal gave a rather baffling reply: “I am against writing a book. It is a risky proposition. Panga pai janda (it creates trouble).”
Badal has played a political role at crucial stages especially when Punjab was facing trouble. He was expected to someday share his side of the story. Evidently, by not speaking his mind through the book and revealing what is stored in his mind, Badal deprives scholars and historians of a peep into recent history.
A Chief Minister for five times, Badal has not only been a prime witness to the most turbulent phases in the recent history of Punjab and the country, but has also been a key player in many events related to the destiny of the state. He was a dominant player in state politics in the 1970s and 1980s when the state was going through the most challenging and turbulent phase in its history. Badal is a most apt example of what American writer and social critic James Baldwin once said: “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.” For years, the Akali supremo has remained trapped in history. And undoubtedly there is a vast reserve of historical events that is trapped within his huge body frame. As of now Badal is among the few surviving Akali leaders who were lead players in all major events — the agitation against the Emergency, the struggle for implementation of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, Dharam Yudh Morcha, agitation against SYL canal, Punjabi Suba Morcha and so on. Some of the important ones, including Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, have already left this world. The other surviving main leader Surjit Singh Barnala is far too frail to take up such an initiative.
Entering politics in the 1950s, Badal became Chief Minister for the first time in 1970. Except for a brief period when radical Sikh leaders dominated, Badal has been a pivotal political player in the state as well as Akali politics since then.
When Punjab was on the boil in 1980s, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, held three meetings with the Akali leadership, including Badal, and four meetings were held by designated Union Cabinet Ministers. Nine secret meetings were held from 1982 to 1984. The last secret meeting was held a few days before Operation Bluestar. Along with Tohra, Barnala and others, Badal participated in almost all the meetings. That is on record. From the Union government side, the main negotiators used to be PV Narasimha Rao, PC Sethi and Pranab Mukherjee. Besides, a lot happened off the record and behind the scenes.
What actually transpired in these meetings is not in the public domain. Immediately after Bluestar in June, 1984, the Union government published a White Paper in July giving a brief account of the pre-Operation events, including meetings with the Akali leaders to resolve the Punjab tangle. However, there is no detailed account of proceedings of the meetings. Who said what is not there for the present generation to dwell on what was described as the “Punjab problem”. What led to deadlocks at such meetings that ultimately led to a sort of catastrophe?
Or, take another key point. The Anandpur Sahib Resolution has been among the most debated and discussed documents in the country. It has remained a central issue in the state’s body politic for four decades. How was the committee set up to prepare the Resolution? Who authored it? Who finalised the demands included in it? Were there behind the scene discussions among top Akali leaders before including these demands? At the national level, certain demands generated controversy. There was even a suggestion that the document smacked of separatism.
In the light of the Resolution, 12 demands were passed at the Akali conference held on October 28 and 29 in 1978 at Ludhiana under the chairmanship of Jagdev Singh Talwandi. In that conference, the first resolution — to demand a federal structure in the country in the true sense of the word — was moved by Tohra and endorsed by Badal, who was Chief Minister at that time also. In its White Paper, the Centre, without elaborating, cleared its position on the Akali demands. However, there is no public version of any senior Akali leader who took part in meetings with Ministers and officials of the Union government. Badal should throw light on what happened on the record and behind the scenes.
Tohra did not write anything. Barnala, who knows as much as Badal, has not put his version in the public domain. Badal and Tohra jointly opposed the Rajiv-Longowal Accord. What were the reasons that made him and Tohra reject it while their three close associates — Sant Longowal, Barnala and Balwant Singh — went for it. What made him (Badal) contest the Assembly elections in 1985 in which support to the Accord was the main theme song? That needs to be disclosed to people as these are the most important events in the history of the state. Tohra began to tell his side of the story but fell ill and passed away.
There is a perception that as a part of the Accord deal, Barnala became Chief Minister. Who were the Central leaders who sabotaged the implementation of the Accord? Why was the announcement to transfer Chandigarh dropped a few hours before the deadline? Answers to these questions lie wrapped in the womb of history and in the memory lane of leaders like Barnala and Badal. They should have thrown light on them.
People would like to know from Badal about his experiences as the head of one of the oldest regional parties in the country, what challenges such parties face and how such parties are treated by the mainstream national parties. What are his experiences of coalition politics? Badal should not find an escape route by saying that books often land one in trouble. He should show boldness to put his account of events on paper to provide food for thought for the present and future generations.