CHANDIGARH: Fur flew and turbans came undone as bedlam broke out in the Punjab Assembly Thursday. It was a day that witnessed Aam Aadmi Party and Akali Dal MLAs closing ranks against the ruling Congress on the sand mafia issue while speaker Rana K P Singh remained steadfast in keeping suspended lawmakers out of the house.
Such were the scenes unseen ever before: lawmakers grappled with marshals, turbans were tossed up in the air, house papers were turned into confetti, and an AAP MLAs found himself in hospital.
The Akali Dal wiseacre, Parkash Singh Badal, a five-time chief minister of the state, described the events as ‘midsummer madness”, “an outrage worse than the horrors of the Emergency,” and the “‘darkest day in the history of democratic India.”
Incumbent chief minister Amarinder Singh was similarly outraged, while pinning the blame entirely on opposition MLAs, whose behavior he characterized as hooliganism. Visibly upset, Amarinder said action ought to be taken against MLAs who broke decorum on the day.
The day’s proceedings began on a charged note with two suspended lawmakers Sukhpal Khaira (AAP) and Simarjit Singh Bains (Lok Insaf Party) trying to barge into the house. They were stopped on the threshold amidst a melee of marshals and opposition lawmakers. In the thick of it, the turban of Pirmal Singh Khalsa (AAP) came loose or was tossed off, depending on whose version was heard. Khalsa himself alleged that his turban was tossed off by marshals.
To this accusation, AAP lawmakers added the charge that their women comrades -- Baljinder Kaur, Rupinder Kaur and Sarabjit Kaur -- were manhandled by male marshals.
Outside the house, as police massed to prevent the entry of suspended members, Akali Dal and AAP MLAs united and forced their way in, led by Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal. But marshals balked Pirmal Singh Khalsa at the gates, and speaker Rana called an adjournment for tempers to cool.
They did not. In fact, attitudes now became set in stone as AAP MLAs sat put in their seats while Congress MLAs huddled around the chief minister to discuss how to dislodge them and get on with the proceedings. The marshals were called in again and the AAP MLAs were bodily lifted to remove them from the house. At this point, Akali Dal lawmakers tried to block the marshals and another scrum ensure on the floor of the House. Yet more turbans came loose or were tossed up, and Bikram Singh Majithia (Akali Dal) rushed to the speaker with the loose turban of as proof of the marshals’ doing.
The speaker hardened his attitude and this time ruled that the AAP MLAs not only be externed from the House but the premises itself.
Once the AAP MLAs were turned out, the Akalis took charge of the bedlam and worked up a din loud enough to drown out all proceedings. As papers turned into confetti, the speakers called in the marshals again, but this time the Akali MLAs walked out rather than enact another melee.
Within this narrative of the day, there lay several sundry charges by lawmakers. Pawan Kumar Tinu (SAD) said he was manhandled by marshals. Sarabjit Kaur Manuke (AAP) was reportedly injured and even fainted under the hand of the marshals. Another AAP legislator Jai Kishan was accused of hitting a marshal. Bikram Sigh Majithia (AAP) claimed he was witness to two MLAs being kicked by marshals.
Parliamentary affairs minister Brahm Mohindra moved a privilege motion against SAD-BJP and AAP-LIP MLAs and the speaker Rana KP pulled up Pawan Kumar Tinu for using unparliamentarily language against a minister.
In the grand tradtion of enemy’s enemy being friend, AAP leaders squeezed into Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal’s car to go see their colleague Pirmal Singh Khalsa in the Sector 16 hospital where he ended up after the day’s exertions. Supplying the metaphor of the day, they carried the AAP MLA’s turban.
The younger Badal vent his spleen upon the speaker, whom he called “goonda KP” and his marshals “bouncers”.
But what was it all about? As AAP lawmaker Kanwar Sandhu put it, all that they asked the speaker to do was allow suspended MLAs Bains and Khaira to enter the House. The speaker would not, and so it was a “murder of democracy”.
In his post-melee remarks, Amarinder Singh said he would give AAP MLAs the benefit of doubt since they are novices and but surely the Akalis ought to know better?