The opposition Congress never had the numbers to topple the Parkash Singh Badal government by bringing in a no-confidence motion. Its strategy was to “expose the doublespeak” of the BJP, the alliance partner of the Shiromani Akali Dal, and to that extent the motion served its purpose.
State BJP president Kamal Sharma, who on Sunday had demanded that revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia step down following his summoning by the Enforcement Directorate in the drug racket, on Monday announced that his party would support the government. So, Leader of the Opposition Sunil Jakhar made no bones about who his real target was.
“I have moved the motion keeping the statements of the BJP in mind. We will give you (BJP) a big relief today. Asi tuwada kam karke jawange (we will ensure your work is done),” Jakhar said while moving the no-confidence motion in the House.
He then targeted the ruling combine through PM Narendra Modi’s radio programme Mann Ki Baat. “The PM spoke of drug menace as the biggest threat to the youth. He singled out Punjab to say a youth’s mother had told him to save their children from drugs. Modi also spoke of narco-terrorism during his election speeches in Jammu and Kashmir and claimed that drug money was funding terrorism. We are a border state and vicious circle of unemployment and drugs has put the future of our youth at stake. The Badal government has not only failed to check this menace but its ministers and MLAs are also being investigated for their role in patronising the drug mafia,” he said.
Asking the BJP its compulsions for staying in the alliance while the PM was speaking on freeing Punjab from drugs and its state president had demanded the resignation of Majithia, Jakhar said the timing of the summons smelled of negotiations by the BJP on the power-sharing formula. “The party will give the minister a clean chit after striking a deal, perhaps by asking the SAD to hand over the post of the deputy CM. I know the BJP’s thinking -- they will not budge an inch when it comes to leaving the perks of power. You cannot defend the government in the house and demand resignation of a minister outside it. Either the BJP should put up or shut up as it has lost the right to speak on drugs,” Jakhar said.
He also tried to drive a wedge in Akali ranks by questioning the CM if the burden of morality was only on “less-powerful” ministers. “Sarwan Singh Phillaur was made to resign after his son was summoned by the ED, here the minister himself is summoned and Badal says Majithia does not need to resign.”
He then trained his guns on Majithia who, he said, had been “ill-advised” not to resign. “He is a victim of his wrongdoings, the company he keeps and his growing popularity. Today, he has crossed all limits. He will have to go but I fail to understand the morality of the CM whose own credibility is at stake. You (Badal) will have to take a call of conscience or you will go down in history as a Bhishma Pitamah who saw everything but did nothing,” Jakhar said.
The party, which had decided to corner the BJP, did not allow the members from the saffron party to speak. The SAD strategy of fielding virulent SAD MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha seemed to have worked when the Congress brought all proceedings to a halt forcing three adjournments demanding that Valtoha be suspended from the assembly. The party, however, had planned to rake up the bigger issue of narco-terrorism.
“Valtoha has said on the floor of the house that he was a terrorist, is a terrorist and will remain a terrorist. This statement has serious security implications for a border state like Punjab where an MLA is openly admitting that he has terror links. Summons to Majithia and Valtoha’s remarks prove Modi’s charge of narco-terrorism. We will meet the President to seek that Valtoha be sacked,” Jakhar later told mediapersons.
Another self-goal by the SAD was committed when Majithia rose up to speak in his defence. He kicked a fresh row by distorting the Gurbani. Though the minister later said he had just changed a few words, the Congress was quick to accuse him of hurting religious sentiments of Sikhs.
Assembly speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal put the no-confidence motion to vote amid the chaos and it was defeated. Neither the firebrand Bains brothers, Simarjit and Balwinder, the two Independent MLAs from Ludhiana who had supported the Congress, could speak nor could the CM, who later said at a press conference that the only aim of the Congress is to disrupt. “It speaks but does not let others do so,” Badal said.
But the Congress claimed it has “exposed” both the SAD and BJP. “One minister is summoned for drug links and another MLA is admitting terror links. It has vindicated our charge of narco-terrorism beyond doubt. We cannot let the house function till both are sacked,” Jakhar said.