Amidst complete unanimity and promise of ensuring camaraderie, instead of "hostilities", the ruling SAD-BJP combine and the Opposition Congress elected Nirmal Singh Kahlon as Speaker and Sat Pal Gosain as Deputy Speaker of the Vidhan Sabha in Chandigarh on Friday.
The election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker was an absolutely smooth affair with bonhomie emanating from Treasury as well as Opposition benches and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal making all out efforts not to let the "bitter memories" of previous Vidhan Sabha tenure continue to cloud the friendly atmosphere of the newly constituted 13th Vidhan Sabha.
The chief minister proposed the name of Nirmal Singh Kahlon for the post of Speaker, which was seconded by the Local Government and Industries and Commerce Minister Manoranjan Kalia who is also a leader of the BJP's Legislature Party. Immediately, the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal rose to announce: "We unanimously elect the Speaker." Interestingly, former Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was not present in the House.
While addressing the House after the Speaker's election, chief minister repeatedly extended hand of friendship towards the Opposition and "thanked" Bhattal for showing magnanimity by electing the Speaker unanimously. There would be no confrontation, Badal assured, as during the previous term "we could not even eat together." "We will put an end to this," the CM said amid applause from the members and set the ball rolling for what he wanted "cooperation from the Opposition."
As the mood in House was quite affable, Chief Minister did not miss any opportunity to sprinkle more spice. Badal told the House that election of the Speaker was reminding him of one Deputy Commission Kapur Singh who had applied for the gun license. When the turn of Kapur came, he himself called his name and signed the papers of gun licence. The situation, Badal said, was somewhat same during Nirmal Singh Kahlon's election who as pro-tem speaker was overseeing his election to the post of Speaker.
In his characteristic style Badal played one after the other deft moves to keep the Opposition in good humour, though he reminded the House that he did not want to open the old wounds. "Unity should be the target of everybody. We should set an example for the rest of the country," Badal said while referring to acrimonious scenes those usually dominate the proceedings of Lok Sabha and other State Vidhan Sabha's.
In order to further assure the Opposition that the SAD-BJP government would take care of the Congress, Badal urged Bhattal to just phone him if she wanted to discuss any issue. "I am ready to go to the home of Bibi (Bhattal)….We respect women a lot," he said. But Badal was also quick to add that Congressmen should not take exception to it. "I am not a Chief Minister with any ego…Even I will not mind visiting my ministers' offices."
On the other hand Bhattal reminded Badal that Congress would play the role of a "strong opposition and watch dog" and hoped that Speaker as a custodian of the House would give ample opportunities to Congress to raise issues.
The chief minister was equally diplomatic when the proceedings began for the election of Deputy Speaker. Earlier, demand had come from one Congress MLA that the post of the Deputy Speaker be given to the Opposition. The leader of the Opposition, Bhattal mildly touched upon this issue, saying it would have been better had the SAD-BJP heeded the suggestion of Congress member. "But any way we accept the motion," Bhattal said.
After Sat Pal Gosain's unanimous elected as Deputy Speaker, chief minister flanked by Kalia took the Deputy Speaker towards Opposition benches and made him sit with Bhattal. After exchanging the pleasantries with Congress MLAs, Badal returned to his seat and congratulated Gosain for not only his election but also for what he said in lighter vain "for getting a very good company." Later, Bhattal also responded saying: "It is always better to have a good neighbour."
The speech of the Deputy Speaker who spoke on this occasion from the Opposition benches was also laced with humour. While reminding Badal that the post of Deputy Speaker should not come in the way of "fulfilling promises made to the people," the House roared with laughter when he jokingly said that he would take some of the Congress MLAs to the Treasury benches.