The brazen use of coercion on the streets of Punjab has now spilled into the temples of democracy. Congress MLAs are being threatened inside the assembly. The idea is to terrorise into submission any form of dissent.
The legal, political and social atmosphere of the country should enable people to enjoy worthwhile and satisfying lives here. But since the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) got power for a second consecutive term, certain people have become more equal than the rest.
The mandate for the Akali Dal was garnered by muscle power and the deep pockets of the mafia who run the business of liquor, drugs, mining and land in the state. The law of cause and effect simply states that an action or event will produce a response. Consequentially, these anti-social elements are now getting their pound of flesh, because of which has arisen an unchecked and unopposed criminal economy in Punjab.
The Akali Dal has rigged the rules of democracy to benefit their own by appointing the ‘halqa in-charge’, an un-constitutional authority in every constituency on whose directions the police and administration work. This patronage has resulted in an arrogant and power-drunk mindset that has led goons to murder even an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) in broad daylight in Amritsar.
The role of elected MLAs from the opposition in their constituencies has been marginalised. So the Vidhan Sabha is the only forum left for such elected representatives to express themselves and highlight issues. Therefore, the Congress approached the speaker to extend the duration of the session from just four days allotted to discussion, so that all issues could be debated thoroughly.
The Congress demanded that the discussion on law and order should take place before any other issue. Fearing embarrassment, the Akali Dal used its well-orchestrated disruptions and treacherously debarred the Congress from debating issues that would have exposed the ruling alliance’s transgressions.
On the very first day, the government wriggled out of a discussion on law and order when the chief minister sought to first speak on misuse of government funds in his home district of Muktsar and insisted on a deceptive self-explanation. By doing so, he not only managed to avoid uncomfortable questions, but this tweaking of the agreed-upon agenda led to a commotion stalling the proceedings of the House.
The perception that the Congress let go of an opportunity to debate important bills in the House must also be clarified.
The government actually avoids providing copies of bills to be discussed to the members before the session. This issue had also been discussed with the speaker, and we had been given a commitment that the requisite papers would be made available two days before being placed in the House. That promise was not kept, and five bills were passed in a span of 15 minutes during the pandemonium, without discussion.
Even in the absence of the commotion in the house, no worthwhile debate would have been possible on any bill as time was insufficient to even read the provisions of the bills.
Apart from the role of the government, the role of the office of the speaker also has come under a cloud.
The unilateral suspension of a Congress MLA and expunging of derogatory remarks of a senior cabinet minister without holding him accountable has cast serious aspersions on the neutrality of the speaker.
The tone, tenor, posturing and expletives used by top leadership of the Akali Dal on the floor of the assembly left no doubt that liberty in the state was spiraling into tyrannical democracy. I am reminded of the words of Thomas Jefferson, “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
The deputy CM’s threat to scuttle the legislative business for the remaining four years of the term does not augur well for a democracy. This attitude clearly reflects their utter disregard for democratic institutions and parliamentary practices that are being systematically destroyed.
The ability of the CM to accommodate divergent views and carry everybody along with him on matters of importance is admirable. But to see him stand helplessly at this confluence of present circumstances has hurt me more than I can express.
Beholden to the Congress legacy, we will work together to reinstate parliamentary principles and make Punjab a better place for its citizens by removing fear and injustice.
(The writer, a three-time Congress MLA from Abohar, is the leader of opposition in Punjab Vidhan Sabha. Views expressed are his personal)