Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, the octogenarian politician who is heading the state for the fifth time, proved to be too shrewd for the combined force of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as its leaders went to meet him on Monday. By the end of the 15-minute dialogue outside the CM residence — which came about as the AAP march to the house was halted at the Punjab-Chandigarh border in Mohali — it was the old man who managed the impossible: Score a goal using the opposite team’s players.
The AAP delegation — led state incharge Sanjay Singh, convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur and MP Bhagwant Mann — though loaded with an arsenal of uncomfortable questions, proved no match for the CM’s cunning. While he played the humility card all through the conversation on the road outside his gates, senior AAP leaders lost much of their combativeness, listing out demands rather over-courteously, almost as if taken in by the chief minister’s old age and seniority.
Badal met them from a position of authority like he would meet representatives of any other protesting body, promising action on their “demands” while conceding nothing. He expressed helplessness to act on most issues, saying that the matters were either under litigation or in the central government’s domain.
TO MEET OR NOT TO MEET
While the decision to hold the meeting turned out to be not the best idea for the AAP, it was debated among party leaders earlier in the day, it is learnt. A section of the AAP leadership, said sources, was not in favour of going to the CM’s residence to meet him. They wanted to stay focused on the protest in Mohali which they wanted to escalate with a bid to enter Chandigarh and have everyone march towards the CM’s residence, if possible.
Others, however, felt that if they did not “accept” the CM’s invitation for a meeting — which Badal had cleverly extended a day before, cancelling all his appointments for the day — it would not only seem like chickening out but also letting down the thousands who had gathered to gherao the CM’s residence.
It was eventually decided that they would meet the CM and try to turn it in their favour by creating a spectacle by getting arrested or having an assertive, if not aggressive, question-answer session with the CM.
‘WON’T GO INSIDE WITHOUT MEDIA’
Upon reaching there, the AAP leaders were asked to be immediately let in. But they refused, insisting that the media also be allowed to be a part of the meeting. While that demand was being put to the CM, the AAP leaders sat on the road outside his house, braving the scorching heat. They raised slogans against the government, asking the CM to come out and meet them. “If the CM is not going to meet us, you should arrest us,” the leaders told the Chandigarh policemen on the spot.
But the CM walked out of his house to greet the AAP leaders. “Why did you have to take so much trouble and are now sitting in the heat? I could have come to your office to meet you,” he said, hands folded.
Mann, who, along with Chhotepur, was tasked with having the conversation, listed out demands rather respectfully, minus the quips. It was the CM who beat him at his game. When Mann pointed out that farmers were under huge debt, Badal told Mann that he too was a farmer and he too would be under debt, “but you must be earning something by your song-and-showbiz!” Mann said he now an MP and had stopped doing that.
“I will stand here for the whole day and listen to you,” said the CM as other AAP leaders joined the chorus of demands. “I have not eaten lunch today, thinking that since all of you and the people who have gathered have not eaten anything till now I should also not eat anything. I was waiting for all of you to come,” he added.
While Mann and Chhotepur demanded agriculture minister’s Tota Singh’s resignation over pesticide scam, Sanjay Singh wanted revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia to quit.
AAP’S CHARTER OF DEMANDS
O Investigation into Rs 12,000 crores ‘foodgrain scam’ to be monitored by Supreme Court
O Payment of grains procured by the farmers within stipulated time
O Compensation of Rs 15 lakh each to kin of farmers who have committed suicide
O Revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, allegedly responsible for drug trade, be arrested immediately
O Agriculture minister Tota Singh, allegedly responsible for cotton crop failure owing to supply of spurious seeds and substandard pesticides, be sacked and prosecuted
O Punish culprits of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in series of incidents last year.