It was a medley that no Punjab assembly had seen before. Opposition benches split down the middle, a sea of young faces, the oldest member not present, turncoats who made the winning switch, and a “comedian” who had the last laugh.
The 15th assembly of 117 members was at its colourful best, and not just in terms of the turbans of MLAs, when it gathered for its maiden session in Chandigarh on Friday. Congress MLAs sported bright pinks, blues, purples and reds amid divided colours of the opposition — mainly yellow turbans of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) legislators and blue of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
Another attraction was the new crop of politicians as first-time MLAs, including a former cricketer, a former newspaper editor, a Supreme Court lawyer and, not to miss, a son of an opposition party MP on the treasury benches! A record 11 MLAs are under the age of 36.
The oldest member, former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, 89, who sat on the CM’s chair five times, gave the first day of the new House a miss. So did his son and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal. It’s the first time — barring the House elected in 1992 when the SAD did not contest elections — that the SAD is not even the principal opposition party.
The distinction of the youngest member went to a Congress MLA with SAD pedigree. Davinder Singh Ghubaya, 25, is a son of Akali Dal’s Ferozepur MP Sher Singh Ghubaya. Pro-tem speaker Rana KP Singh administered the oath to 114 MLAs (excluding himself and Badals) in about two hours.
The newcomer AAP with its 20 MLAs occupied the place of principal opposition party, with all its MLAs except one (Sukhpal Singh Khaira) being first-timers. Having won the election with a brute majority of 77 seats, the air of vindication on the Congress benches was loud and clear. The treasury benches cheered each MLA who went up to take oath with thumping of desks. And none forgot to seek the blessings of the new captain, chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
What was also unmissable was the newfound chemistry between Amarinder and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu. The two were seen laughing over one of Sidhu’s wisecracks and engaged in a long banter thereon as the local bodies minister explained the Delhi model of generating power out of sewage to the CM. Sidhu, when asked as to what they were discussing, said, “Why should I reveal what we were talking about.” He seemed to be having the last laugh after Amarinder on Thursday cleared the decks for his participation in ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’, where he is a permanent celebrity guest tasked with laughing and making wisecracks.
Who cheered whom?
Some Congress and AAP MLAs, too, were seen greeting each other as they went up to the speaker’s chair to take oath. Treasury benches also thumped their desks for leader of opposition HS Phoolka as he took oath, and quite a few AAP MLAs were seen greeting Congress benches before they went up to take oath or after coming down. Congress MLAs Parminder Pinky and Amrinder Singh Raja Warring shook hands with AAP leaders seated in the front row. Both the Bains brothers of Lok Insaf Party — Simarjeet Singh and Balwinder Singh — who fought in alliance with the AAP, received a bear hug from Sidhu after taking oath. Not very long ago, the Bains brothers, Sidhu and Pargat Singh had formed a front called Awaaz-e-Punjab. While the Bains brothers sided with the AAP as Sidhu took time to decide, Pargat too is now a Congress MLA.
Seated at the far end, it was the Akalis who were feeling the chill. Neither the Congress nor the AAP benches applauded or greeted any SAD legislator who took oath. The SAD, which was represented by former ministers Bikram Singh Majithia and Ajit Singh Kohar in the front row, returned the favour. The only sign of thaw between the two opposition parties was visible when SAD’s Pawan Kumar Tinu shook hands with AAP MLAs in the front row after taking his oath.