Step out and connect with the constituents, fast. That’s the basic message beleaguered chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, desperate to pull out the state from the current unrest, conveyed to Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) legislators in Chandigarh on Friday.
The unrest across the state has hit the credibility of the SAD hard and the recovery seems an uphill task. It is the complete disconnect of legislators with people in the forefront of the Panthic backlash that has further distanced the ruling SAD-BJP coalition from people.
Not only SAD legislators but also the top party leadership, including the chief minister and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, have stayed away from directly engaging the protesters, while the legislators – barring few exceptions -- have been watching the ongoing blockades and agitations from safe distance to avoid the raging fury of people.
As there is a complete breakdown of law and order and semblance of governance, the chief minister held lengthy meetings with SAD-BJP legislators of Jalandhar followed by those of Hoshiarpur. The objective was to take feedback from the MLAs on how to arrest the unrest.
Transport minister Ajit Singh Kohar, chief parliamentary secretaries Gurpartap Singh Wadala, Pawan Kumar Tinu, Avinash Chander, KD Bhandari and Pargat Singh and former minister Manoranjan Kalia (BJP) were closeted with the chief minister for over two hours. Equally long was the meeting of Hoshiarpur MLAs of the ruling alliance, it is learnt.
Badal, ostensibly worried at the ‘free for all’ situation prevailing in the SAD, told the MLAs to hold confidence-building talks with party workers and expand its ambit by meeting key representatives of various organisations. An MLA said the chief minister asked the MLAs to reach out to people, bridge the communication gap and build confidence.
The chief minister sought suggestions from the legislators about course correction and how to defuse the ongoing crisis politically.
Some MLAs, sources say, indirectly hinted that police should be strengthened instead of pushing the cops to the wall. “It was pointed out specifically by a few MLAs that the morale of the police is at its lowest ebb, which may not augur well for the state,” sources said.
While the erosion of authority and the revolt in the SAD has rattled the party leadership, the SAD-BJP legislators in private blame that this coup-like atmosphere was primarily triggered by the decision to pardon Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in the 2007 blasphemy case.