No lights or camera but a lot of action. That’s how the Congress MLAs holding a sit-in on the floor of the Punjab assembly spent Monday night. With just a few months to go for state assembly elections, it brought the brought various Congress factions together in just one night. Some MLAs even said they finally got to spend some quality time together!
The more social media-savvy among them such as leader of opposition Charanjit Singh Channi, Youth Congress president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and Tarlochan Singh Soondh kept their “followers” and media updated on what they were doing inside the assembly with selfies on their Facebook pages. Warring even posted a picture of four of them brushing their teeth!
Four women MLAs -- Karan Brar, Aruna Chaudhary, Charanjit Bajwa and Harchand Kaur -- too were part of the protest.
Brar said as they braved the heat, hunger and darkness, she had a bright idea to make a video clip on her mobile phone and send it to news channel which telecast it live. “I made the video of the four women MLAs looking stressed, sitting in pitch darkness, without air-conditioners and lights, with no woman staff and male staff running all around. It was only after it was telecast that the dim lights on the side walls were switched on,” says Brar.
“With some of the men opening their turbans and some sleeping in their shorts as it was too hot, all four of us went to the office of assembly secretary Shashi Lakhanpal Mishra and slept there. We left in the morning at 5.30 to freshen up. But out of us, only Aruna was able to get in again. By the time we returned, the security refused to let us in,” she added.
Pictures posted on Facebook by some of the MLAs showed a few Sikh MLAs resting on their turbans and looking into the camera for a selfie. But the most “memorable” pictures is a “group photograph” posted on Facebook where all the 22 MLAs camping inside the assembly are wearing aprons with posters pinned on them that read, “Punjab da cancer, Badal sarkar” (Badal government is Punjab’s cancer).
Former leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar, who was asked by Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh “to guide Channi and stand by him”, during the Congress legislature party (CLP) meeting on September 1, kept his promise. While most senior leaders left on Monday evening on health grounds, Jakhar stayed put.
“The idea of sit-in was floated by the youth brigade of Channi, Warring and Gurkirat Kotli. It is about showing solidarity with what the CLP decided. Since there were no lights and air-conditioners, I slept on the floor of the house at 9 pm. Some others took off the removable seats on benches to sleep. In pitch darkness and with nothing else to do, many MLAs were passing time by sharing anecdotes and gossip. In fact, for the first time, we spent some quality time bonding with each other,” quipped Jakhar.
Channi tried to convince the media till late into the night that there was no food with the MLAs. Soon after that, sandwiches were sent from the residence of MLA Gurkirat Kotli and later Captain Amarinder Singh too sent food packets and juices. By 11 pm, more packed food was ordered.
The Punjab Congress chief who was being briefed by his loyalist MLAs on their condition inside, also kept up their morale by issuing statements outside.
Interestingly, Navtej Cheema, finally got to play his role as chief whip of the party as he ensured nearly 27 MLAs stayed back for the “night stay”. He said they had switched on some lights but the assembly staff kept taking the plugs offs. “One of us could have been electrocuted as they kept taking the plugs off every time we plugged them in,” he said.
On Tuesday evening, Mukhwinder Singh Cheema, deputy inspector general of police in charge of security of the assembly, told the MLAs that the police have to sanitise and clean the assembly for Wednesday’s session.
But the Congress MLAs refused to budge. Twenty of them stayed through Tuesday night. The four women MLAs and three others who were feeling unwell had left.
“We never expected to win the no-confidence motion. The idea was to debate all issues which was denied,” said Brar. But the Congress is not complaining.