Battle lines likely to get sharpened in Punjab as the chaotic Assembly session ends

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Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, September 14: As Punjab Assembly Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal started the debate on the no-confidence motion moved by the opposition Congress after much wrangling over allotment of total time which he promised to extend, sources close to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal conveyed that he was fully prepared to nail his opponents. However, within minutes, as the situation turned chaotic, it had become clear that he was the Leader of the House only in name. Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal seemed to be ensuring that the debate did not proceed. Badal has just been reduced to the mask as he did not intervene even once to facilitate smooth functioning of the House. In the process, the ruling Akali Dal lost strategic ground to the Congress. The battle lines for the February 2017 Big Fight have been sharpened.

The last session of this Assembly today ended creating several records. The Congress MLAs slept for two nights in the Assembly hall to register protest against the rejection of their no-confidence motion by the Speaker with voice vote amidst pandemonium. The lights and airconditioning were initially switch off. Leader of the Opposition Charanjit Singh Channi today told media persons that he had pressed for division when the Speaker put the motion to voice vote without discussion. As per the parliamentary practice, the Speaker can’t reject the demand for division made by the mover over no-confidence motion. There is set procedure for voting on this motion.

The second part of the history relates to what happened on the concluding day. The Congress went to the extreme to give out the signal of its being aggressive and not in league with the ruling party. The Aam Aadmi Party that till recently seemed to be dictating the battle had been bombarding the Congress for its state president Capt Amarinder Singh being in league with the family of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The royal family of Patiala and the Majithia family have close relationship going back to three generations. But then this is a different issue as it was Capt Amarinder Singh during whose government Badals went to jail on corruption charges.

As Speaker refused to yield to opposition and allow discussion, the Congress MLAs sharpened the attack and what happened was unprecedented. They used the business papers as missiles to target the Speaker who was provided strong security cordon. These missiles continued to be hurled till entire ammunition (stationary) was exhausted.

In between, Congress dalit MLA Tarlochan Singh Soond hurled a shoe that fell on the table of otherwise aggressive Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia. However, he was the example of exemplary equanimity. The source of shoe remained  mystery till Soond accompanied by Channi and Sunil Jakhar later addressed news persons to confess this was his action. However, his target was Akali MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha who, he alleged, had hurled casteist abuses at him that he could not tolerate. Valtoha denied it later. It is for the first time that a shoe has been hurled at somebody in Punjab Assembly.

However, the Speaker did not even take note of the hurling of the shoe. He might not have seen it as he was covered by security people. However, the Assembly staff was there around him to bring the incident to his notice. He should have censured this action.

The architecture of the Punjab Assembly hall is such that nothing is audible in case the mike is not on. It is a high domed structure with press gallery being at the highest level as compared to other galleries.

It was in this chaos that the Speaker adopted 22 Bills. The main business of the legislature is supposed to be legislative. The MLAs and MPs are known as the law makers. However, this is the business that in Assemblies is normally listed for the last days. As the missiles continued to fly in the House, the Bills were adopted without discussion. Badal was a silent spectator.

Badals have been ruling the state since 2007 and this is history in itself as no party has ruled for two consecutive terms in Punjab since 1966. Sukhbir himself was in for a pleasant shock as the results in 2012 started tilting in favour of the Akali Dal. This time he is determined to give a tough fight despite the contest being multi-dimensional and the Akali Dal-BJP facing tsunami of anti-incumbency. It would be a fight ever each and every vote.

It was Rahul Gandhi who himself was taking a keen interest and had held meetings including with Channi separately to discuss the strategy to put the party in aggressive mode during the session. The Congress has been too demoralized, especially after the 2012 debacle. This is the one reason that the AAP succeeded in occupying the opposition space easily  to emerge as  an effective third  dimension. However, AAP in Punjab is hit by inner-party contradictions and is losing steam, though slowly.

People are waiting for the contours of the fourth front led by Pargat Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu to emerge. This could become the nucleus of all those who have parted company with Arvind Kejriwal led AAP. Of course, the party had presented a massive show at its Bagha Purana rally where manifesto for farmers was released. But then the manifesto failed to come up with new ideas.

What has happened in the Assembly over the last three days, including a holiday as Congress MLAs were inside the hall, has  the potential to sharpen the battle lines provided the Congress maintains this thrust. This was the first ever such united show of the Congress. Sunil Jakhar, Channi’s predecessor, was in command at crucial times inside the House offering total cooperation. Capt Amarinder Singh offered moral and material support from outside.

Badal seems to have been left with little functional autonomy going by his passivity during the two days in the House. It is a different matter that he yesterday visited the MLAs sitting on dharna in the Assembly but without giving them any assurance on debate. It was more of photo-op. In case the Leader of the House so desires, debate can’t be scuttled by the ruling party.

Editor-in-Chief

Jagtar Singh

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