No one expected the last session of Punjab assembly before polls early next year to be uneventful. Especially, when all sessions in the five years of the present House have had their share of controversies. But the last one takes the cake.
The Congress, which was found wanting on floor strategy in the budget session in March and scored many a self-goals, was able to outwit the Akalis through a publicity coup — its dramatic two-night sit-in on the floor of the House after its no-trust motion was declared defeated by assembly speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal without a debate.
But it lost the advantage on the last day after one of its MLAs, Tarlochan Singh Soondh, hurled a shoe at the treasury benches. Though he later found an excuse for the action, it did bring the Congress some blushes. The party tried to undo the damage by holding a mock session and giving media “bytes” to chew on.
But its senior leaders seemed visibly upset as events unfolded. Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Lal Singh, Brahm Mohindra and Preneet Kaur were not seen in the sit-in or the mock assembly. Though they returned on Tuesday morning to show solidarity for the protesting MLAs as they made headlines and Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh backed them with food and kudos, it was clear who was in the driving seat.
Some senior leaders such as Sunil Jakhar and Tripat Bajwa did play along for the sake of team spirit by being a part of the sit-in but their discomfort with the party’s floor strategy or lack of it was all too obvious. Some senior leaders, on condition of anonymity, said there was near unanimity at the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meet that Jakhar would open the no-confidence motion debate. It was to be followed by speeches of others and end with that of incumbent leader of opposition Charanjit Singh Channi.
“But Channi wanted to be the first speaker. When the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has passed the baton of assembly to the young brigade, we have to go by what they decide. It would have been much better if we were able to corner the government over important issues,” a senior MLA said. Though Channi defended use of provocative words as quotes out of Guru Granth Sahib, he served Akalis the ammunition to disrupt his speech on a platter.
In his bid to balance seniority and youth, Rahul entrusted the job of handling elections to veterans such as Capt Amarinder Singh and Ambika Soni but went for a generational shift by replacing Jakhar with Channi, Bharat Bhushan Ashu (deputy leader of opposition) and Navtej Cheema (chief whip). The other young turks of the party, who were driving the two-day protest, were All India Youth Congress president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, Kuljit Nagra and Gurkirat Kotli.
After the shoe-hurling episode in the House, senior Congress MLAs were seen returning to their seats, something that did not go unnoticed by the ruling benches. Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia told reporters later that Congress senior leaders were looking “embarrassed” by the incident. “Jakhar, Bhattal, Preneet and Lal Singh, all went back to their desks after the shoe was hurled. But they were told by Amarinder to stand by Soondh. The story of caste slur was fabricated as an afterthought. If he was insulted, why did Soondh not raise the issue in the House? Do you think our Dalit MLAs would have allowed one of us to abuse their community,” he said.
The Congress was able to outwit the ruling Akali-BJP in game of grabbing headlines and many of its MLAs have turned celebrities after their videos and pictures went viral on social networking sites. It was also able to put up a rare show of unity. But it missed the opportunity to outclass the ruling benches through a debate. No kudos can go to Akali-BJP for not letting the debate take place, neither to Congress for missing the goalpost.