It was a public meeting in Bathinda, just about 40 kilometres from Lambi, the family borough of the Badals. In the run-up to the 2012 assembly election, Congress veteran Captain Amarinder Singh had threatened to make the Badals pay for their “corruption” and throw them in jail if voted to power.
Shiromani Akali Dal chief Parkash Singh Badal took the stage and challenged his bete-noire to arrest him. “You know I am a simpleton so I will survive my time in prison. But what about Maharaja sahab? It takes two people to make him wear his tang pyjama (fitting pants),” he said, mocking the Patiala royal.
Badal Senior regaled the crowd with anecdotes on how he was used to drinking water from the handpump but the maharaja needed his fine wine.
Since the reorganisation of states on linguistic lines and formation of Punjab, the politics of the border state has been a see-saw battle between the Badal family’s Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress. The electorate has given both sides a fair chance, alternating between the two sides, barring in 2012 when it preferred the incumbent SAD government over faction-ridden Congress.
Just like J Jayalalitha and K Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, Devi Lal and Bhajan Lal in Haryana, the personalised rivalry between Badal Senior and Captain Amarinder has dominated Punjab politics since 1990s.
The two regional satraps have tried to politically and financially destroy the other using court cases, defamation suits and vigilance raids. Singh had been inducted in Congress by his Doon School friend Rajiv Gandhi. However, he resigned as party’s MP in 1984 after Operation Blue Star and joined SAD. In 1992, he was denied a ticket by Badal senior, which is considered the genesis of the political rivalry spanning decades. Captain Amarinder Singh floated his own party SAD (Panthic), which suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1997 assembly election. He then merged his party with the Congress.