Backed by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal made extra effort to placate the opposition Congress by conceding to hold debate on Wednesday on different issues, including sand-price rise and illegal sand mining.
Following the question hour (in which the MLAs seek answers to their written questions to the ministers and the CM), Congress legislators, including Balbir Singh Sidhu and Jagmohan Singh Kang, were on their feet, demanding rollback of property tax. A section of their party's MLAs resorted to anti-government sloganeering, which initially a sizeable number of the opposition MLAs seemed disinterested in joining.
Slowly but steadily, the Congress MLAs left their seats, trooped towards the well of the House, and walked out with Kang leading the sloganeering pack. Former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, however, stayed back to move the calling-attention notice about the unavailability of doctors in the civil health centre in her Lehragaga constituency of Sangrur district. It left many members surprised.
"I oppose property tax and demand its rollback. I fully endorse the stand of my party but I cannot join them in the walkout and lose the opportunity of moving this calling-attention notice," Bhattal said repeatedly, even later when her party leaders returned to join the proceedings.
Here, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal tried to take wind out of the Opposition sails, when he asked the Congress to prevail upon the party's union government to withdraw this condition of levying property tax. "We were compelled by the Centre to impose property tax," he said. By now, the Congress MLAs were back and the CM grabbed the change to advise the opposition to desist from staging walkouts for "just making news".
Badal requested state Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Kumar Jakhar to help run the House smoothly by maintaining decorum. "Let us set good example and work unitedly for the welfare of Punjab," said the CM, asking the Congress MLAs to remain calm.
As Badal began to shower praise on the CLP leader for his cooperating in taking up with the water-logging issue with the union government, Jakhar turned on the fire, saying: "I wish the Shiromani Akali Dal (ruling party) cadre also display the humility and politeness the chief minister is known for." "Because the SAD cadre keeps troubling the Congress workers, the bonhomie at the top sends a wrong signal," he added.
The CM made another attempt to reach out to the Congress, saying let there be a debate on all issues the Congress wanted. "Chaudhary Sahib (Jakhar), you just order... we will accept… but please maintain peace," Badal said, to defuse any move of the Congress to disrupt the proceedings.
The opposition shouldn't walk out for just making news
Parkash Singh Badal, chief minister
We were compelled by the Centre to impose property tax
Sukhbir Singh Badal, deputy CM
The bonhomie at the top sends a wrong signal
Sunil Jakhar, state CLP leader