To save the peasantry and the country was Parkash Singh Badal's motto

The country's oldest politician -- next only to BJP veteran L.K. Advani -- Badal passed away on Tuesday evening after a brief illness at a private hospital

Prakash Singh Badal
Prakash Singh Badal

Vishal Gulati/IANS

For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Akali patriarch and five-time Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal (95) was India's Nelson Mandela.

The country's oldest politician -- next only to BJP veteran L.K. Advani -- Badal passed away on Tuesday evening after a brief illness at a private hospital.

Throughout his political career, Badal, who had once compared Modi to former US President Abraham Lincoln, had always expressed "immense satisfaction and pride" over the strong and principled stand taken by his party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), "to save the beleaguered peasantry and the country".

The Akali Dal was one of the oldest allies of the BJP. It was among the first to support the 13-day Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. And Akali patriarch Badal was a founder-member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The Akali Dal-BJP (earlier Jana Sangh) alliance has been described as the oldest and strongest in contemporary politics. No other coalition weathered so many political battles since March 27, 1970, when Badal became the country's youngest Chief Minister.

But the Akali Dal snapped its over two-decade long ties and pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in September 2020 after sharp differences emerged over the three controversial farm laws, now repealed.

In an interview with this IANS correspondent ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the elderly Badal had said the guilty of both the Gujarat riots in 2002 and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 should be punished.

He had said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after touching his feet, had sought blessings not only from him, but from the Punjabis and Sikhs all over the world.

In a conversation, the senior Badal had said that it made him feel very humble when Modi touched his feet ahead of filing his nomination papers in Varanasi.

"Modi sahib took me by surprise. But as I see it, he sought blessings not from me personally, but from Punjabis and Sikhs all over the world."

And did he give his blessings to Modi? He had replied: "Yes."

"He has my best wishes and the blessings of all Punjabis for what he did for opening the Kartarpur Sahib corridor, punishment to Sajjan Kumar and other guilty of the 1984 massacre, abolishing the blacklists of Sikhs abroad and release of liberal funds in hundreds of crores for Guru Sahib's 'shatabadi' (550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev."

Badal had also said that he wanted the guilty of both the Gujarat riots and the anti-Sikh riots to be punished.

"No one has ever justified the Gujarat riots. No one said after the Gujarat riots that it was like shaking of the earth after the fall of a big tree. But from Rajiv Gandhi to other Congress leaders, they have always justified the anti-Sikh riots," he had said.

When asked that in October 2015, Modi had called him India's Nelson Mandela and that now he has compared Modi to former US President Abraham Lincoln, he had said: "Lots of people have referred to me as Nelson Mandela even before, because of the years I spent in jail fighting for democracy, civil liberties and peace and reconciliation in Punjab."

"I don't believe I can be compared to a great man like Mandela. As for Modi sahib, I compared him to Abraham Lincoln and I spoke from the core of my heart. Nothing political about it."

Days after returning his Padma Vibhushan over the 'black farm laws', the elderly Badal had urged Modi to scrap the three farm laws, claiming that they have pushed the country into a deep turmoil.

In a four-page letter, Badal had called upon the Prime Minister to "show magnanimity" and withdraw these laws as a first step towards the resolution of the serious crisis confronting the country.

Akali Dal chief and his son Sukhbir Badal said in a statement that the elderly Badal is "not just a human being, not just an institution, not just an era but it's like history halts at a critical juncture and I can barely gather my thoughts or manage words to announce that Sardar Parkash Singh Badal left us at 8 pm to embark on his journey to eternal peace at Guru Sahiban's and Akal Purakh's feet".

The elderly Badal's mortal remains will be placed at SAD head office in Chandigarh from 10 am to 12 noon on Wednesday. Thereafter, the mortal remains will be taken to Badal village in Muktsar district where he will be cremated on Thursday.

In 2022, Badal, the eldest candidate at 94 in the fray for the 117-member Punjab Assembly, had lost to AAP's greenhorn Gurmeet Khuddian from Lambi by 11,357 votes, a seat he had won five times in a row since 1997.

Despite the drubbing in the 2022 Assembly elections, the elderly Badal, who firmly believed that the farmers' issue relates to the overall national interest, had expressed "immense satisfaction and pride" over the strong and principled stand taken by his party "to save the beleaguered peasantry".

He was often quoted as saying, "Sometimes parties face ups and downs. It happens in politics. The Akalis have a long history of rejecting the lure of office and standing up for principles."

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