Debate on governor’s address: SAD sans Badals, no ammo with AAP, Cong goes on offensive over mining row
The AAP scored a self-goal when its senior MLA Sukhpal Khaira uploaded a Facebook live video of unruly scenes in the house between Akali Dal and Congress MLAs.punjab Updated: Jun 16, 2017 22:28 IST
Offence is the best form of defence, they say. Emboldened by a divided opposition, the Congress government was able to outwit its rivals by going on the offensive during the debate on the governor’s address on Friday.
The Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance had harped on a farm debt waiver, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the sand mine auction controversy, on the first two days of the budget session. On the third day, the AAP scored a self-goal when its senior MLA Sukhpal Khaira uploaded a Facebook live video of unruly scenes in the house between Akali Dal and Congress MLAs. He was suspended for the rest of the session, leaving AAP with little firepower. Its ally Lok Insaaf Party’s Simarjeet Bains was already suspended on Thursday for the session by speaker Rana KP Singh.
The elder Bains brother, Balwinder, sat on the floor next to his chair throughout the day’s proceedings, as a mark of protest. The AAP, however, did not boycott the debate following Khaira’s suspension, though its MLA Kanwar Sandhu asked the speaker to allow Khaira to attend the session till the Privileges Committee gave its report.
The SAD seemed rudderless with neither former CM Parkash Singh Badal, nor party president Sukhbir Badal, nor former minister Bikram Singh Majithia present during the debate. Former finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa put up a meek defence to the tirade from treasury benches.
Congress MLA Raj Kumar Verka moved the motion of thanks on the governor’s address (made during the first session of the new government in March). In his speech spiced with couplets and proverbs, Verka targeted the Badals and Majithia as “bhagore” (absconders) and asked the opposition how a minister (Rana Gurjit Singh) could be faulted “if someone that he knows bought a mine worth lakhs for crores and enriched the state treasury!”
SAS Nagar MLA Balbir Singh Sidhu, who seconded the motion, accused the previous SAD-BJP government of looting the state, of using the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) for personal gains; and cited cases of corruption against its ministers and other leaders.
Bring MLAs under conflict-of-interest law: AAP
AAP MLA Aman Arora, also the party’s co-president for Punjab, questioned the delay in bringing the reforms mentioned in the governor’s address, such as a law to end monopoly over cable network, the delay in a new transport policy, and the alleged dilution of the proposed conflict-of-interest law.
“The CM has said that the law will only cover the CM and ministers, and not MLAs. Why should the MLAs not be unseated if the are found guilty of conflict of interest?” he said. He also took a dig at finance minister Manpreet Badal for saying their government cannot end “mafia raj” in the first year.
From the SAD, Nakodar MLA Gurpartap Singh Wadala alleged that Congress leaders were now acting as “halqa in-charges”. When reminded by treasury benches that the SAD had introduced the system, Wadala retorted, “Two wrongs do not make a right.” The CM intervened to say the halqa in-charge system of the Akalis had been disbanded and the Congress had no such precedent.
The BJP’s blink-and-you-miss presence in the House — two of its three MLAs were present — did not help matters for its ally. BJP legislator Som Parkash took on local bodies minister Navjot Sidhu’s allegations of misuse of funds of the department, giving Sidhu the opportunity to hammer him with his ‘Sidhuisms’. “You were attached to the then local bodies minister (BJP’s Anil Joshi) when tubewells worth Rs 13 lakh were installed for Rs 27 lakh,” Sidhu said. For every intervention by SAD MLAs, Sidhu shot back with: “Tusi das saal sutte paye si (Were you sleeping for 10 years)?”
AAP legislator Gurmeet Singh ‘Meet’ Hayer questioned the heroin seizures claimed by the government. “The arrests show the average quantity of heroin seized is just a few grams. This proves the government is catching addicts, and the crocodiles are sitting safely in their havens,” he said.
Congress strikes back, speaker smiles
Embroiled in the sand mining controversy, the three-month-old government was able to tackle the opposition by the fiery speech of Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, who heaped lavish praise on the CM and mimicked Sukhbir, Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, using drama and substance.
“Now I know why Captain is called babbar sher (lion) by Punjabis. Where is Sukhbir who thumped his chest and said he will rule Punjab for 25 years? And what happened to the ‘billa’? I mean the ‘Proud to be Akali’ badges,” Warring said. He then trained his guns at AAP’s poll slogan, ‘Kejriwal, Kejriwal, sara Punjab tere naal (Kejriwal, the whole of Punjab is with you)’. “Where are the 100 seats that the AAP was winning? Now even a Delhi minister has levelled allegation of taking bribe against the CM (Kejriwal),” he said.
Leader of opposition HS Phoolka sprang to his feet along with other AAP MLAs at the mention of the Delhi CM’s name, saying that Kejriwal is not a part of the House. Amarinder could not help taking a jibe too. He got up to tell the AAP that the CBI has just now “raided” the premises of their deputy CM in Delhi.
Even the speaker seemed to allow Warring a lot of legroom. He defended Warring’s naming Sukhbir, who too was not present in the House, saying he is a member and can defend himself later. On the mention of Kejriwal, who is not a member of the House, the speaker said one can use a name along with the word “allegation”. He could not hide his smile as Warring mocked and mimicked opposition leaders and Captain took a dig too.
Before ending his speech, Warring gave Rana Gurjit the “clean chit” by saying the government’s job is to see its coffers do not suffer. “Finding out the source of money of the bidders of sand mining is the job of the Enforcement Directorate and the income tax department. Our country’s law and Constitution say you cannot pronounce anyone guilty until he is proven guilty,” he said.
‘Cong MLAs wanted share too’
Pointing towards SAD legislator Kanwarjit Singh Rozy Barkarndi, he said, “My brother from Muktsar made Rs 9.5 crore daily from sand mines out of Rs 10 crore of daily business. Many Congress MLAs wanted to get our share in the spoils of power, too, but Captain told us to have tea and then showed us the door,” Warring said.
Barkandi stood up in protest but Warring had the last laugh by saying, “I did not name anyone.”
Later, SAD MLA NK Sharma’s speech was interrupted by ruling benches and the speaker asked the AAP MLAs to speak. The Congress strategy of divide-and-rule paled the AAP’s strategy to allow more speakers and the SAD’s to have meek speakers.
The debate lasted three hours. It will formally conclude on Monday with the CM’s speech.
Barb of the day
This came from none other than CM Captain Amarinder Singh who got up to express his “sadness” at the questioning of Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia by the CBI on Friday. “I just read the news. I am deeply pained by it,” he told AAP leaders. But the smile on his face and that of his cabinet colleagues and the assembly speaker betrayed their emotions.
‘Cook’ of the day
Power and irrigation minister Rana Gurjit Singh loves to host people and remind them of his “kind” gesture. When AAP MLA Baljinder Kaur said he was not giving them an audience over irrigation issues, the minister told her he had invited leader of opposition HS Phoolka for lunch when the latter had called up. An angry Phoolka stood up to say that he wanted to meet the minister with his delegation of MLAs for some work and not lunch. But Rana never misses the chance to “cook” up a controversy, be it lunch invites or sand mining contracts allegedly awarded to his cook.
Slip of the day
Congress MLA Raj Kumar Verka fumbled on numbers and kept quoting Rs 1,026 crore as the amount Congress government made from sand mining auctions. The figure had actually reduced to Rs 300 crore as many bidders defaulted. But Verka was trying to make the point that the government coffers had swelled. So did his numbers.
Lost in tenses
Congress MLA Balbir Sidhu referred to former CM Parkash Singh Badal as the CM and the previous government as the incumbent one quite a few times. A Congress MLA referred to former finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa as the FM leaving Manpreet Badal blushing.
MLA of the day
The crown goes to soft-spoken Akali Dal MLA Gurpartap Singh Wadala. He started his speech by saying both the Opposition and treasury benches should stick to debating issues in the governor’s address. He then reminded the speaker that there should be no pick-and-choose policy for MLAs. “During the last government, then leader of opposition Charanjit Singh Channi had uploaded a video of his speech from the House. Why has Sukhpal Khaira been suspended for a similar act?” he asked.
Man of the match
Congress MLA Amrinder Singh Raja Warring was patted by the CM and hugged by ministers and MLAs after his speech. Known for his histronics, Warring had become a “selfie sensation” during the sit-in of Congress MLAs when in opposition. This time, some Congress MLAs quipped, his speech could well bag him a berth in the cabinet.
Pairs of the day
Every party has its pairs, and the Congress is no exception. They may seem like next-in-line competitors but ministers Navjot Singh Sidhu and Manpreet Badal held a joint briefing at the press gallery and later entered the session together. They sit next to each other and appear to be friends. The other pair is of Rana Gurjit Singh and Faridkot MLA Kushaldeep Dhillon. The two were sitting together and chatting as their MLAs debated on the governor’s address. What’s common? You will have to dig deeper to know!
Flight of the day
Congress MLS Balbir Sidhu referred to a former Akali minister whose department allegedly sold fake pesticide for cotton crop. When the Akalis objected, Sidhu said, “I said Tota (a bird) not Tota Singh!” Sidhu had more in his kitty. Mocking Sukhbir Badal’s bus terminal project at SAS Nagar that boasts of a helipad, he said, “No bus comes there. Those who want to board a bus, take the helicopter!”