It was the last assembly session of the current government and the treasury benches managed to wriggle out of two difficult situations, with a big help from speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal.
The session was expected to be stormy and the ruling-alliance legislators of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had their fingers crossed. The Congress had moved a no-confidence motion against them, a motion which the speaker can’t deny. The alliance was confident that it had the numbers to defeat the motion but were expecting a lot of flak during the debate on it.
The government was on the back foot on the issues of law and order, rampant drug addiction, and police atrocities, and the Congress was all set to go to town with these. The SAD issued a whip to ensure that its MLAs were in full strength on Monday to face the motion. All senior officers, including director general of police (DGP) Suresh Arora were called to the assembly hall.
Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal called a hurried meeting of all SAD and BJP MLAs to prepare a floor strategy to tackle the no trust move. “But nothing could be discussed because of the presence BJP legislator Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was among the first to arrive,” said an Akali MLA. The alliance doesn’t trust Dr Sidhu, since she is expected to join the new political forum of her husband, former BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu.
“The deputy CM prepared notes comparing the crime figures of Punjab and other states and on the number of positive dope cases in a recent police recruitment drive. But a proper ‘who will say what’ had not been finalised,” the MLA said.
The opportunity to respond, however, never came. In the first five minutes of his speech, leader of opposition Charanjit Singh Channi launched a frontal, abusive attack on the Badals. Sukhbir gestured his MLAs to get up from their seats to protest and pandemonium broke out. Before anyone could make sense of what was going on, the speaker put the motion to vote and declared it defeated by voice vote.
“We didn’t even realise that the motion had been put to vote,” said an angry Sunil Jakhar, senior Congress leader, on Wednesday. “The speaker’s conduct has been most unfair. He has denigrated the position of his chair.”
The Congress anger was directed at the speaker also for his “brazening it out” on the session’s final day. “Despite our unprecedented 40 hour sit-in protest, the speaker did only what the Akali-BJP combine wanted,” said Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, one of the 20 MLAs to camp inside the assembly since Monday evening.
As the Congress MLAs continued their protest on Wednesday morning, demanding resumption of the discussion on the no-confidence motion, the speaker suspended the question hour and zero hour and went straight to the legislative business. The SAD-BJP wanted its bills, amendments, and ordinances passed. Many of these were to give effect to the last-minute sops cleared by the cabinet last week in view of the coming state elections.
If the speaker didn’t “brazen it out”, he “braved” through the rest of the proceedings certainly, passing 21 bills in an hour amid abusive slogans and paper missiles hurled at him from the opposition benches. Half a dozen members of the watch-and-ward staff along with the office staff shielded the speaker from the projectiles.
Counter complaints from Congress, SAD
Congress legislators led by Tarlochan Singh Soondh gave a written complaint to the speaker against Akali MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha for his “abusing” the Dalits. Akali Dalit legislators filed a complaint against Soondh, Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, and Sukhjinder Randhawa for “shameful conduct disgracing the Dalit Samaj”. Both complaints were forwarded to Punjab Scheduled Castes Commission.