Bhagat Singh or Mangal Sein? Badal fumes as BJP plays politics over Chandigarh airport

Chandigarh, Dec 25 (IANS) The name Mangal Sein may not ring a bell with most people in Haryana or Punjab but Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar of the BJP has stirred a hornet’s nest by proposing that Chandigarh International Airport be named after the late RSS leader. This has raised the hackles of those who want the facility to be named after the famous freedom movement martyr Bhagat Singh.

Khattar’s recent letter to the union civil aviation ministry on Mangal Sein is now being seen as a move to demean the name and sacrifice of Bhagat Singh, a national icon of the country’s freedom struggle. An angry Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has shot off an emotional letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, terming Khattar’s move “distasteful”.

“(We) remain convinced that considering the massive national following Sardar Bhagat Singh enjoys, no one would even consider opposing the proposal. Any controversy on the matter needs to be snuffed out as quickly as possible,” Badal, who at 88 years is the oldest serving chief minister in the country and whose Shiromani Akali Dal is a long-time ally of the BJP, said in his letter to Modi.

“It is distasteful and even an affront to all our great national icons even to drag the issue of naming the International Airport at Mohali after Shaheed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat into a controversy. Even to raise a question on any proposal to name a national project after him would be unsavory and a disservice to all those who, like Shaheed-e-Azam, put the interests of the nation above anything personal,” Badal added.

The Chandigarh Airport has got a new terminal building, including an international terminal that was inaugurated by Modi on September 11 without the facility bearing a name. The terminal building is actually in Punjab’s Mohali town.

What has upset Badal and others is the fact that Punjab and Haryana, which have a 24.5 percent stake each in the airport terminal project, had long agreed that it should be named Shaheed Bhagat Singh International Airport. The Punjab and Haryana assemblies had, in 2009 and 2010 respectively, passed resolutions on this.

Khattar’s move on Mangal Sein is being seen as the Haryana government’s move retracting from the Haryana assembly’s unanimous resolution. Mangal Sein’s claim to fame is briefly being Haryana’s deputy chief minister in late 1970s, being a seven-time legislator and being the Haryana BJP president.

The issue was raised in parliament by Congress MP Ravneet Bittu, to which Minister of State for Civil Aviation Mahesh Sharma replied: “In a subsequent letter, the chief minister of Haryana has requested naming the international terminal as Dr. Mangal Sein International Airport Chandigarh. The proposal was examined in consultation with the ministries concerned and the governments of Haryana and Punjab. However, due to non-consensus between Haryana and Punjab, the airport terminal could not be renamed.”

Badal, in his letter, has stated: “There was a general national consensus on naming the International Airport at Mohali after the martyr-supreme, Shaheed-e-Aazam Sardar Bhagat Singh and a formal and final decision to this effect should be taken without any further loss of time.”

Badal also appealed to Modi “to intervene personally to put a quick end to any controversy on the issue as this was creating a very unsavoury situation for all those who take pride in our national martyrs”.

“A proposal to this effect is already with the government of India and we all assumed and still remain convinced that considering the massive national following Sardar Bhagat Singh enjoys, no one would even consider opposing the proposal. Any controversy on the matter needs to be snuffed out as quickly as possible,” a clearly upset Badal stated, adding that “everyone in the country acknowledges Sardar Bhagat Singh as Shaheed-eAzam – the greatest martyr among martyrs”.

Describing Bhagat Singh as the “pride of India”, Badal said he was a “national and international icon, at par with heroes and martyrs like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi”.

Badal himself was recently likened by Modi as the “Nelson Mandela of India”.

“We all know that national heroes like Sardar Bhagat Singh, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar Kartar Singh Sarbha, Madan Lal Dhingra, Shaheed Udham Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru are the common heritage of the nation. Their names should never be made a subject of controversy by anyone,” Badal asserted.

Even so, the last word on the subject is yet to be said. Watch this space for updates.

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