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A symphony of apologies

When opinions are polarised and emotions dictate argument, perhaps the only way to restore clarity is to return to facts and replay them exactly as they happened. The only way to make some sense of the labyrinth of nonsense that overtook sanity in Punjab during its tryst with vulgarity and disgrace in the recent winter session of the Vidhan Sabha lies through such a replay. Harcharan Bains writes

chandigarh Updated: Dec 30, 2012 10:30 IST

When opinions are polarised and emotions dictate argument, perhaps the only way to restore clarity is to return to facts and replay them exactly as they happened. The only way to make some sense of the labyrinth of nonsense that overtook sanity in Punjab during its tryst with vulgarity and disgrace in the recent winter session of the Vidhan Sabha lies through such a replay.


To us in the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Congress appeared to have convinced itself much before the start of the session that its best chance lay in concentrating on just a couple of incidents that had become high-profile media events to rock the state: the Faridkot girl's abduction and the Amritsar tragedy of the murder of ASI Ravinder Pal Singh. Considering their immense emotive value, the Congress was perhaps right in believing that it could corner the government over these two issues alone and that there was no need to broad-base the case on the alleged breakdown of law and order.

If they thought that the government would shy away from such a debate on one pretext or the other, they were in for a surprise as deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal himself asked for law and order to be debated.

From thereon, it appeared that one of the two parties was looking for excuses to sabotage the debate. First it was the refusal to let the CM make a statement to answer charges levelled against him on the misuse of government grants in Lambi. This was the constitutional right of the Leader of the House. But the CM still preferred to bow to the Congress demand and surrendered this right.

When Sunil Jakhar finally rose to off-load the dreaded Opposition "bombshells" against the government, the treasury benches were pleasantly surprised to see that did not go beyond the Faridkot and Amritsar cases, on both of which the government claimed prompt administrative response. We in the government were left wondering if this was all that the Opposition could throw at us.

Once the Opposition had used its right of 'first strike', the old-timers in the Congress legislature seemed quick to realise this and were immediately on their feet, declaring that they won't allow Bikram Singh Majithia to speak. This was well before any side had bad-mouthed the other.

Then, suddenly, all hell broke loose. First, Congress MLA Rana Gurjit Singh was seen charging menacingly towards Majithia, who was still speaking from his allotted seat. Both Rana and Majithia used unprintable expletives against each other.

A fresh window of opportunity was created the next morning by a gesture from Sukhbir asking the Vidhan Sabha speaker to revoke Rana's suspension unconditionally and to adjourn the House to request the Congress to discuss law and order. For some reason, the Congress chose not to respond to this. They said they would talk only to the chief minister, who was away that day to attend a cremation of a senior party leader.

The next morning, the CM rose from his seat at the outset and apologised to everyone for the mistakes of the treasury and opposition benches, in the interest of the honour and dignity of the House and its traditions." His exact words were "…jo ehna ne galat keeta uss layee vi, te jo ohna ne galat keeta uss layee vi". He beseeched the Congress to come back, but this time, the alleged misconduct of two House marshals was put forth by the Congress to stay away. By now it was clear that the Congress mind was firmly set against resuming the debate on law and order.

Thus ended a session in which Punjab's chivalrous and noble traditions were virtually "raped" in front of the high and mighty in a spectacle reminiscent of the infamous 'chirharan' from the Mahabharata.

What next? Can the leaders of the two parties - Mr Sunil Jakhar and Mr Badal himself - be persuaded even now to issue a fresh joint apology on behalf of both sides to the House for whatever happened that disgraceful morning and close the matter there?

Knowing Mr Badal as well as I do, I believe he will always be willing to go an extra mile in the interest of democratic dignity. I am sure Mr Jakhar, too, wouldn't let his political compulsions come in the way of ending this needless acrimony. A shared symphony of democratic conscience alone can close memories of this ugly and jarring note in the darkest hour in the history of the state legislature.

The writer is advisor to Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on media and national affairs.