‘Caste slur’, shoegate, and all the drama as curtains down on Punjab assembly
As curtains came down on the last assembly session of Punjab ahead of polls, it saw yet another first. After an unprecedented sit-in by Congress MLAs on the floor of the House for two nights, one of them hurled a shoe at the treasury benches over an alleged caste slur.
Half of party’s 42 MLAs had continued the sit-in, started on Monday evening after the no-trust vote moved by the party was defeated, through Tuesday night. When the session began at 10 am on Wednesday, the opposition members were already in the well of the house shouting slogans. Assembly speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal first adjourned the House for 15 minutes and later suspended the question and zero hour and asked the ministers to table reports and bills. Amid the bill-passing spree, agitated opposition members continued shouting slogans and threw bills and paper planes at his chair calling him a “sarkari speaker” for not allowing a debate on the no-confidence motion.
A huge posse of assembly marshals flanked the chairs of speaker and assembly secretary Shashi Lakhanpal Mishra to ward off the paper missiles. Amid the pandemonium, Congress MLA Tarlochan Singh Soondh hurled a shoe at the treasury benches. The shoe narrowly missed Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, the brother-in-law of SAD president and Punjab Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal. After Majithia stood up and flashed the shoe before the house, Akali Dal and BJP legislators too left their seats. Both sides trained their guns at each other, plunging the house into utter chaos.
As Majithia instructed assembly marshals to find out the MLA with a missing shoe, the Congress decided to walkout. But Majithia threw Soondh a dare and asked him to “own up” that he hurled the shoe. “The assembly marshals told me Soondh was not wearing shoes. After hurling it, he was standing and shouting slogans from the chair of leader of opposition Charanjit Singh Channi and left his other shoe there. But when they were staging a walkout, I asked Soondh to have the guts to own up that it was him,” Majithia later told HT.
At 11.36 am, an hour-and-half after the session began, speaker Atwal adjourned the House sine die. Though many senior Congress leaders disapproved of the incident, the party decided to brazen it out and held a hurried press briefing to justify Soondh’s action. Flanked by party MLAs, Soondh admitted to throwing the shoe but claimed it was aimed at SAD MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha who “used expletives and insulted his community”.
“Valtoha took my name in the House and said ‘ae ne chure, chamara da theka laya ae’ (has he taken responsibility of all churas and chamars in Punjab). I am a proud Dalit and could not tolerate this insult to my community and hurled a shoe at him,” Soondh said. Channi, also a Dalit from the Ravisdassia sect, added that “100 shoes will be hurled if anyone insults Dalits”.
The Congress later held a mock session in the House and Soondh was made the “speaker”. Interestingly, at the mock session, Channi who had invited the wrath of the ruling benches by calling Badals “thugs”, spoke eloquently without using any offensive words till Congress MLA Jagmohan Kang raised a point of order and reminded him that he was forgetting the words he used inside. But the pun was not lost on senior Congress leaders who said on condition of anonymity that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had passed the baton of the assembly to “inexperienced” young leaders and they had little choice but to go by their decisions.
Make video public: Valtoha to speaker
The Akali Dal, too, lost no time to rebut Congress allegations. Soon after Congress media briefing, Valtoha denied abusing Soondh and claimed the assembly video recording would bear him out. He has written to the speaker to make the video public to “expose” the Congress. As is his wont, Valtoha went a step further and issued a statement accusing Congress MLAs of “drinking, eating non-vegetarian fare and singing and cracking jokes “ during their night stay. Congress MLAs Sukhjinder Randhawa and Tripat Bajwa too shot back asking Akalis to go to a gurdwara and say it under oath.
Capt hails MLAs for ‘bringing Akalis on toes’
Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh, in a statement, congratulated his party MLAs for “bringing Akalis on toes”. He said the he sit-in by the legislators helped in highlighting the issues for which the Congress had sought a debate and which was refused by the Speaker. “With an arrogant government and not an impartial speaker, our members were left with no option. This was the beginning of the final assault on the government,” he added.
1:11 pm: SAD MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha denies abusing Congress MLA Tirlochan Soondh. Soondh had claimed that he hurled a shoe at Valtoha, which eventually hit Bikram Singh Majithia, for abusing him.
“I will leave politics if Assembly video recording shows me abusing Soondh,” Valtoha said.
12:02 pm: Congress MLAs to hold mock assembly in the Vidhan Sabha complex. Tirlochan Soondh, who hurled his shoe at Majithia, will act as ‘Speaker’
11:56 am: Congress stands by Tirlochan Soondh, who hurled the shoe at Virsa Valtoha that hit Bikram Majithia . “He was provoked,” leader of Opposition says.
11:52 am: “My Dalit community was abused by MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha. He was the target of my shoe,” says Congress MLA Tirlochan Singh Soondh
11:48 am: Congress MLA Tirlochan Singh Soondh admits he hurled shoe. But, he says, it was directed at SAD MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha who “abused” him
11:40 am: Protesting Congress MLAs to start mock assembly inside Vidhan Sabha complex
11: 35 am: Over 20 bills passed in one hour. Speaker adjourns House sine die
11:24 am: Treasury benches ‘identify’ Congress MLA Tirlochan Singh Soondh as only one not wearing shoes after shoe hurled at Bikram Singh Majithia
11:07 am: 12 bills passed in Punjab assembly in half an hour as legislative business continues amid pandemonium
10:55 am: Security staff stand between the treasury and Opposition benches as both sides confront each other after shoe thrown at Majithia
10:49 am: Shoe thrown at revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia by protesting Congress MLAs
10:43 am: Protesting Congress MLAs challenge deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal for a discussion on Punjab’s problems
10:39 am: Four bills passed in the assembly within ten minutes, pandemonium continues.
10:32 am: Speaker starts with legislative business. Protesting Congress MLAs throw papers etc at Speaker as two senior cops protect him
10:30 am: Speaker suspends zero hour, question hour following pandemonium in the House. Congress MLAs throw papers and reports at Speaker.
10:23 am: Assembly speaker Charanjit Atwal says he wants the House to run smoothly, requests protesting MLAs to go back to their seats.
10:17 am: Assembly adjourned for 15 minutes following pandemonium in the House. Protesting Congress MLAs still sitting in well in House.