CHANDIGARH (TIP): 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 (Sept 12) evening after the no-trust vote moved by the party was defeated, through Tuesday (Sept 13) 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.
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.