Under the Lahore Sun: Another Badal in Pakistan

In February 1999, when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made bold to visit Lahore, he took the Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal with him.

A decade and a half later, Badal's son Sukhbir Singh headed out to Pakistan today armed with big ideas about deepening cooperation between the two Punjabs and changing the geopolitics of the Subcontinent.

Vajpayee understood that the peace process between India and Pakistan can't really take off without a reconciliation between the two Punjabs that paid the biggest price for the partition of the Subcontinent.

As Pakistan's aggression across the Line of Control in the Kargil sector came to light within a few weeks after Vajpayee's Lahore trip, the peace process had to be put on the respirator.

But Vajpayee's insight on the centrality of the Punjab in the India-Pakistan peace process remains on the mark.

During the Lahore summit, Prakash Singh Badal was a fly on the wall. He had the opportunity, of course, to engage his counterpart from West Punjab, Shabaz Sharif.

But the possibilities for Punjab-Punjab cooperation went up in smoke of the Kargil fire.

This week, Sukhbir Singh Badal will be the centre of all attention in Lahore, where the enthusiasm for trade and commercial cooperation with India has become infectious.

Sukhbir Singh Badal owes debt of gratitude to two of his political opponents from the Congress Party for the sea change in the atmospherics between the two Punjabs.

One is Amarinder Singh, the former chief minister of Punjab. After Vajpayee breathed fresh life into the peace process in April 2003, Amarinder Singh had the opportunity to ramp up contacts with the government, political leaders and civil society in West Punjab.

The other is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has persisted with the peace process despite much political scepticism and bureaucratic resistance in Delhi. One of the fruits from the PM's patient effort has been the agreed road map for the normalisation of trade relations.

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