More than 40% of the legislators in the 2012-17 Punjab assembly — including the then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal — never got a book issued from the Vidhan Sabha library. As for the rest, their reading interests could well be a pointer to their varied interests.
Congress’ Capt Amarinder Singh — who is now the CM, and remained an MLA in the 14th assembly for two years (2012-14) before entering the Lok Sabha — got issued the controversial book ‘Maharaja: The Lives, Loves and Intrigues of the Maharajas of India’ by Diwan Jarmani Dass, among others. Maharajas covered in the book include Amarinder’s grandfather Bhupinder Singh of Patiala.
The assembly has one of the best stocked libraries in the region, with over 55,000 books at the disposal of MLAs, whose interests range from BR Ambedkar to Vivekananda, to Bhagat Singh and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. A large number of MLAs showed interest in the history of Sikhs written by different authors.
Navtej Singh Cheema took lessons in politics by reading ‘Chankya Niti’, though it could be conjecture to cite it among reasons for his victory this time too. The then food minister Adaish Partap Singh Kairon of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), who lost this time, got ‘Dictionary of Words’ issued.
Another former minister who lost this time, Sikander Singh Maluka earned punishment from the Akal Takht, the Sikh temporal seat, for distortion of prayers; but his passbook in the library points towards Panthic (religious) dedication. He got three books issued; one on Guru Gobind Singh; the Zafarnama (a letter written by the tenth guru to then Mughal emperor Aurangzeb), and another on Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Most MLA stuck to books related to folklore and issues of Punjab, though the then Jagraon MLA SR Kaler took the 19th-century classic ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte that challenged the Victorian ideals of the era.
Charanjit Singh Channi, who was leader of opposition and is now a minister, got issued ‘The Last Sunset’, a book written by Capt Amarinder Singh. Manjit Singh Mianwind, an Akali MLA in the previous tenure, got books on general studies for the civil services exam issued in his name. At the age of 38 in 2012 when he was elected, perhaps he was hoping for an alternative career.
Rajnish Kumar Babbi, re-elected in 2017 on Congress ticket, got the maximum books issued (16), while the others had two to three. He was followed by Channi with eight books. Former hockey skipper Pargat Singh, who was an Akali then and is now a Congress MLA, apparently wanted to know more about Chandigarh as he got ‘The City Beautiful’ issued.
Around 50 MLAs never took any book. After all, reading from this library is serious business. Every book issued has to be returned, or the price of the book paid, because no MLA can re-contest without a no-dues slip from the library.