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Poetry and figures amidst sound and fury marked Manpreet Badal’s 2nd Punjab budget

The House began with members listening in rapt attention as Manpreet promised to steer the state out of its financial mess under the ‘the finest leadership’ of former soldier, chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh.

punjab Updated: Mar 25, 2018 12:00 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Poetry,figures,Manpreet Badal
AAP MLAs raising slogans after staging a walkout during his speech, at the Punjab assembly in Chandigarh on Saturday.(Keshav Singh/HT)

Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal was his usual poetic self, as he made a stirring start to his second budget presentation on Saturday. “The shadow cast upon the Land of the Five Rivers is momentary. I assure you that we can be beaten by none other than our own selves,” he said, all dapper in a beige coat and shell-white turban.

Soon enough, his words hit home as Akali legislators, led by former minister Bikram Singh Majithia, drowned his voice in loud slogans.

The House began with members listening in rapt attention as Manpreet promised to steer the state out of its financial mess under the ‘the finest leadership’ of former soldier, chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh. Quoting Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, he said, “Sehr qareeb hai, dil se kaho, na ghabrae (Dawn is about to break, tell the heart to stay calm),” a poetic way of telling the state to hang on.

The legislators did just that, hanging on to his words. Former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who entered as the budget was about to be presented, simply listened, while his son and former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal made notes, as did Majithia. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders Sukhpal Singh Khaira and Kanwar Sandhu too scribbled away. There was not a whimper when he announced that the expenditure on interest payments had gone up by 30%, or when he said that the state’s debt liabilities, most of which it inherited from the previous government, accounted for 40.8% of the Gross State Domestic Product.

The walkout

However, the Akalis rose as one the moment he mentioned the Rs 4,250 crore allocation for debt relief to farmers, or ‘Anndata’, as he referred to them. Posters came out in a jiffy as the handful of legislators used their lung power to make up for their numbers. Manpreet’s address was drowned in cries of ‘Karza maaf karo’ (Waive debt) and ‘Murdabad’. Majithia led from the front as Sukhbir reluctantly shuffled out, his eyes still on the budget speech in hand. His father, the former CM, quietly got up and was escorted out.

The marshals were out in a trice, forming a 3-tier security ring – two lines of men and one of women – around the well. As Akalis carried on shouting, Khaira got up and tried to seek the attention of the speaker, but in vain.

Soon, more AAP legislators were up on their feet. When the Akalis walked out, it was time for the AAP leaders to belt out their repertoire of slogans, more colourful. ‘Beimaana di sarkar murdabad’ and ‘Nyaya virodhi sarkar murdabad’ (Down with the government of the dishonest and the unjust)! The ‘Modi Sarkar’ (Centre) too came in for some sloganeering. And then, they too walked out.

All this while, the FM carried on uninterrupted. As the opposition walked out, the treasury benches took to thumping of benches. Now, Manpreet was listing the steps planned for the Kandi belt when a handful of AAP leaders, who included Aman Arora, Amarjit Sandoa and Gurmeet Hayer, walked back in.

The FM, who reserved the bad news for the beginning, seemed satisfied as he read out a string of schemes. He concluded on the same note on which he had started, “We have come too far; we have sacrificed too much, to disdain the future now.” Quoting Allama Iqbal, he said a little push is all that the state needs. Hope floats, even in the assembly.

Sidhu vs Majithia in Question Hour

It started off as a disciplined assembly with Question Hour, which saw members of both the opposition and the ruling party asking questions. The speaker Rana KP Singh played the role of a good-humoured interlocutor. The only signs of trouble were the frequent verbal skirmishes between local bodies minister Navjot Sidhu, a study in blue, and Akali leader Bikram Majithia. The duo even had Khaira suggesting to the speaker that they sort out their differences in a separate lounge.

First Published: Mar 25, 2018 11:57 IST