As a strategy, it was simple. And would have been effective too, but the social media failed it.
The Punjab Vidhan Sabha secretariat sealed the assembly complex on Tuesday morning, barring the entry of the media, among others, inside. The authorities had expected that the absence of the media would force the protesting Congress MLAs to come out of the building to interact with the press. The plan, say sources, was to have the central hall empty, even for a few minutes, and lock it immediately, taking it out of the MLA’s “occupation”.
But the protesting MLAs, led by Indian Youth Congress president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, had the perfect solution to the media blackout. Warring, who has a large following of Congress youth across India on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, started posting pictures and live video updates of what the MLAs were doing inside. His selfie of brushing teeth which showed another three MLAs behind him went viral on the social media. He whatsapped pictures of MLAs donning white aprons with printed sheets highlighting their demands attached on the aprons. He updated his social media audience almost every two hours since 6am.
The 6pm video showed the MLAs shifting an unwell Ashwani Sekhri into an ambulance. Vidhan Sabha secretary Shashi Lakhanpal Mishra, in whose room Sekhri was made to sit while waiting for the ambulance, even quipped to Warring to leave the video and worry about the MLA’s health.
Watch | Congress leaders raising slogans outside the Punjab assembly on Tuesday:
Did Warring do a Bhagwant?
Assembly secretariat sources say that by the evening when the videos came to the notice of senior officers they sent a message to Warring asking him to stop making the videos. “How is this case different from what Aam Aadmi Party’s Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann did in Parliament? Mann is facing a serious probe for making a video near the parliament and jeopardising the security of the house,” pointed out a senior officer of the secretariat.
Warring, however, had incorporated his defence in his videos. “I cannot take the mobile phone inside the central hall where we are sitting day and night. I am making the video outside the hall, in the corridor and lobby,” he said.
Others learn fast and try to catch up
Infected by the successful media updates that Warring was generating, senior Congress leader Sunil Jakhar also tried out what seemed to be his first video message. “The CM’s visit was a waste of time. He came empty handed. He did not offer any solution or talk about the issues that the Congress is agitating on,” he said in the video message, released to the media through whatsapp. “I am planning to issue a written statement also from here,” said Jakhar later, over phone. The protesting MLAs had free access to the Congress office computers from where the leader of the opposition Charanjit Singh Channi also issued a statement to the media reacting to the chief minister’s visit.
Assembly digs into MP case for solution
Looking for precedents to the situation that had developed in the assembly since last evening, assembly staff dug into old newspapers and files. Finally, a news report of March last year was found in which protesting Congress legislators had similarly ‘occupied’ the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, staying put inside the hall for three days. They were protesting against government’s failure to provide adequate relief to farmers for crop failure.
Punjab Congress legislators too seemed to know what had happened in MP. In MP too, while the MLAs protested inside, their state party chief held demonstrations outside, burning effigies of the CM.
The assembly staff added that it is not Congress which started the trend.
“The MP House had been occupied for one night by BJP legislators also when they were in the opposition. We tried to find out how the stalemate ended from our counterparts in MP but since it is a holiday we could not get across to anyone,” said a senior officer in the Vidhan Sabha secretariat.