The Parkash Singh Badal government on Monday skillfully distanced itself from the current impasse in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha with a shrewd strategy. While deflecting the ball to speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal's court on the grounds that the ongoing logjam was an issue between the speaker and the Congress, the government refused to climb down from its demand that the opposition must tender an apology "to the speaker, inside the House".
The Congress has been boycotting the proceedings of the assembly after March 13 when the Congress legislators threw reports towards the speaker's chair, punched assembly marshals and grabbed the speaker's chair while protesting against "lawlessness" in the state. The speaker suspended nine Congress legislators for the misconduct.
The skirmishes between Congress MLAs and the assembly security staff were triggered by the entry of "unauthorised" persons - including the Tarn Taran woman who was recently thrashed by the police in public view -- in the office of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) adjoining the House where legislative business is conducted.
The House proceedings on Monday began with speaker taking exception to Congress holding a "mock session" on the assembly premises and reminded the legislators to maintain decorum.
This set the stage for the SAD-BJP to launch an offensive against the Congress. "They have shown disrespect to the speaker… It's a very big matter… No one has ever dared to throw reports tabled on the floor of the House towards the speaker… They must apologise to the speaker," Badal said, and then urged speaker to "use your good office" and convince the Congress to attend the assembly proceedings. "I am feeling very bad… If you want I can walk up to them and urge Congress MLAs to come to the House," Badal further said, but then added, "It will be a bad precedent if they don't tender an apology to you (speaker)."
Taking a cue from what Badal said, parliamentary affairs minister Madan Mohan Mittal told Atwal: "They are fighting against you, against your writ. We have no fight with them." Then came a clincher: "Congress MLAs should come in, and with folded hands say sorry to you (speaker)."
Mittal also moved a motion to condemn the "mock session" of the Congress outside the House, terming it illegal.
With the stage set, one after the other, SAD-BJP leaders such as Virsa Singh Valtoha, Manoranjan Kalia and Anil Joshi spoke at length against the "tamasha" of the Congress. "(CLP leader) Sunil Kumar Jakhar has been unable to display his leadership," said Valtoha. "Congress MLAs should do this syapa (mourning) in front of the doors of the union government, not here," Kalia suggested.
Feeling compelled, the speaker said: "I will urge them to meet me."
Apparently feeling that the speaker could adopt a soft approach, Badal was again on his feet: "Speaker sir, they must come here (in the House) and apologise to you."
As the CM again cautioned against an unhealthy precedent if opposition MLAs were let off without an apology, Atwal stressed: "Let me try."
Later, the speaker left for his chamber to hold parleys with Congress leaders. But when he came back after the failed meeting, the motion against the Congress' act was not put to vote, nor was the logjam broken.