Punjab budget session review: Captain govt on slippery ground after double-barrelled attack by AAP, SAD
So the party had planned its strategy well — keep the enemy divided and be on the offensive from the first day. The Congress was waiting for the right time to strike at the AAP’s firebrand leader Sukhpal Khaira who was leading the mining war against his old-time rival, Punjab irrigation and power minister Rana Gurjit Singh.punjab Updated: Jun 24, 2017 09:24 IST
It is not just a numbers game. Even with nearly two-thirds majority in the Punjab assembly, the Congress was fearing its maiden budget session to be a washout over sand mining controversy that had embroiled one of its nine ministers in just two months of coming to power.
So the party had planned its strategy well — keep the enemy divided and be on the offensive from the first day. The Congress was waiting for the right time to strike at the AAP’s firebrand leader Sukhpal Khaira who was leading the mining war against his old-time rival, Punjab irrigation and power minister Rana Gurjit Singh whose name had surfaced in the mining row. And Khaira served it on a platter by live streaming a video of jostling Congress-Akali MLAs on Facebook and inviting a suspension from the assembly.
A day before him, the AAP’s ally Lok Insaaf Party’s Simarjeet Bains, too, had managed to get a suspension from the session. With a “sympathetic” speaker in Rana KP Singh, the government was on a roll.
Khaira and Bains were out and no one from the AAP was questioning it. The Badal clan was keeping out on its own — former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, his son and SAD president Sukhbir Badal and the latter’s brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia — gave the debate on governor’s address a miss.
When the party tried to corner the government on farm debt waiver, CM Captain Amarinder Singh had his ammunition on sand mining stakes of Akali leaders ready. All he had to do was wave a “list” in the House
During the budget debate, too, Sukhbir-Majithia kept a low profile and AAP almost seemed like an ally. But simmering discontent between Bains and AAP’s legislature party leader HS Phoolka over their suspensions was threatening to boil over. The party was also getting divided in the Phoolka versus Khaira war.
Sukhbir, too, party sources said, was banking on Khaira to lead the mining attack. But he realised it was advantage Congress in their battle of one-upmanship with the AAP. So before his estranged cousin, finance minister Manpreet Badal, could score some brownie points in his concluding speech on budget on Thursday, he threw his lot behind AAP when it protested speaker’s diktat of not allowing Sukhpal and Bains entry into the assembly. An “ailing” former CM Badal too came into the play, paying a visit to hurt AAP MLAs at the hospital.
But the bonding happened over tossing of turbans and trading of charges and counter charges between AAP MLAs against the assembly marshals. In power, the Congress is not as tolerant to the liberties it took as Opposition when it too drove roughshod over assembly staff, who are sitting ducks whenever any party’s MLAs decide to go on a rampage.
Punjab voted for change. It seems to have got one. For the first time, a woman assembly staffer has lodged a complaint of “molestation” against an MLA and two of the AAP’s legislators have lodged cases for assault against assembly marshals and were hospitalised.
Ideologically as different as chalk and cheese, the AAP and SAD may not be able to hold hands for long. The AAP had dubbed Congress of being “in cahoots” with the Akalis and the Akalis had called AAP the B-team of Congress.
The Congress is relieved the “sandstorm” has blown over, for now. But the ground beneath its feet remains slippery.