Despite a short House session, the Congress had been able to turn the heat on the ruling benches. But that was till the opposition decided to score a self-goal.
In an unprecedented show of solidarity for an opposition MLA, ministers and MLAs from the ruling Akali-BJP alliance stood up to fight for the "dignity" of Congress MLA Ashwani Sekhri, who had on Wednesday accused a few Congress MLAs of "abusing and insulting" him inside the House.
Led by Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, the ruling benches hijacked the entire agenda of the Congress for the zero hour by asking assembly speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal to take action against those who "misbehaved" with Sekhri.
Dramatising the episode, Majithia said Sekhri's life was under threat and he was worried as the Batala MLA, like him, hailed from the Majha region.
Though reluctant, Sekhri stood up and complained about the incident, saying, "I even went to the speaker's chamber to register my complaint. I am speaking for privilege of all members of the House and dignity of all its members."
Left red-faced, the Congress tried to avoid further blushes by deflecting the debate. Amid the din and slogans of "shame-shame" by the ruling benches, leader of the opposition Sunil Jakhar mocked Majithia by saying that those who themselves hurled abuses at opposition members not long time ago were now talking about the dignity of the members, referring to an earlier incident of Majithia hurling expletives at Congress MLA Rana Gurjit Singh.
To defeat the treasury benches' design of provoking Sekhri, Jakhar said he appreciated Akali-BJP MLAs' undue concern for their (Congress) member but they would sort out the issue themselves. "Don't worry. Mian-biwi toh vi vadia raazi kar diyange (we will resolve the discord and they will agree even more than a husband and wife). You should be more worried about farmers who are committing suicides in the state," said Jakhar.
Congress MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa tried to highlight media reports on former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala seeking transfer to a Bathinda jail. But the ruling benches were in no mood to give up what came as a godsend. Parliamentary affairs minister Madan Mohan Mittal of the BJP said the House was concerned about the MLA's complaint and it should be taken up.
Speaker Atwal again said he could not take action till the MLA gave names. After the nudging by the speaker, Sekhri went on to name MLAs Ramanjit Sikki and Sangat Singh Gilzian as the ones who abused him and tore the copy of the resolution. The speaker was quick to refer the matter to the privilege committee.
The self-goal forced the Congress to go into a huddle to broker truce between its warring MLAs. Jakhar, accompanied by senior leaders Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa and several other MLAs, trooped to the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) office to coax Sekhri to bury the hatchet. Jakhar emerged from the meeting saying that the matter had been resolved and it was a "non-issue" now.
Sekhri, who followed Jakhar, however, told the media that the two MLAs had "apologised for their misbehavior" and he had decided to drop the complaint. Asked if the ruling benches showing solidarity for him was not an embarrassment for his party, Sekhri said, "Irrespective of the party, an MLA is an MLA. I thank Majithia and other MLAs for standing up for the dignity of a MLA. I am also thankful to Jakhar and Bhattal for sorting out the issue."
Gilzian, on his part, said he had just asked Sekhri to remove his name from the list of signatories to the resolution, while Sikki refused to comment, saying that it was the party's internal matter and had been resolved.
Rift wide open
Amid all the action and drama, the rift in the Congress ranks was out in the open. Sekhri dismissed allegations that he was trying to score brownie points before the party high command by bringing the resolution outside the forum of the CLP, saying that he was not a contender for the posts of either the state Congress president or the CLP leader. "I am loyal to my party. In the Congress, there is a tradition of passing a resolution whenever the party is in a crisis by stating that we are united under the leadership of the high command. I was just following that tradition by proposing a resolution," he said.
But MLA Tarlochan Singh, a loyalist of former CM and Amritsar MP Captain Amarinder Singh, was unsparing in his criticism of Sekhri. "Why was he trying to show individual loyalty to the party? We are with the party high command. Is my loyalty not with my party? Maybe, I am more loyal than he is. It was just a cheap publicity stunt," he said.
With inputs from Manpreet Randhawa