CONG FIGHTS CONG IN PUNJAB HOUSE, AKALIS RELIEVED

CHANDIGARH (TIP): The ruling Akali-BJP government was spared an onslaught by the Opposition Congress on the last day of the monsoon session of Punjab Vidhan Sabha today, with the Congressmen choosing to fight among themselves in the House.

Though Congress MLAs managed to create their share of noise in the House — which led to one adjournment for 25 minutes and the session boycott later — the case they had built against the government yesterday by targeting three Akali ministers over “irregularities” went crumbling amid infighting.

Yesterday’s episode of Batala Congress MLA Ashwani Sekhri being booed by his party MLAs reverberated during the zero hour today. While Sekhri demanded action against two of his party’s MLAs — Ramanjit Singh Sikki and Sangat Singh Gilzian — for threatening him, the Congress strategy moved from taking on the government to quelling the tensions within the Congress Legislature Party (CLP).

Though senior party MLAs tried to pacify Sekhri and told the Speaker that they would solve the issue among themselves, the Speaker referred the case to the Privileges Committee of the House.

To counter the government, the Congress had planned to take up issues such as drug menace and the alleged involvement of BJP leaders in the illicit drug trade; a privilege motion against Minister for Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes Gulzar Singh Ranike; and the Punjab Chief Minister’s reply to the charges of “man-made” crisis in agriculture because of rampant corruption in the Agriculture Department.

As Sekhri narrated the incident, some MLAs supported him, while others, including Leader of Opposition Sunil Jakhar, Lal Singh, Rana Gurjit Singh, Ajit Inder Singh Mofar and Sukhjinder Randhawa, were seen trying to pacify all in the Opposition benches.

While Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Mohan Mittal said it was a serious matter, Revenue Minister Bikram Majithia said if the member of the House felt threatened, security must be provided to him. On this, Jakhar said the “internal matter of the Congress” was being politicised unnecessarily.

Mittal said since Sekhri had not withdrawn his submission to the House, his “izzat” was in the hands of the Speaker, who asked Sekhri to name the MLAs. Sekhri said the names had appeared in the newspaper today, before finally naming Sikki and Gilzian.

When Congress MLA from Ferozepur Parminder Singh raised the issue of drug menace, he was interrupted by Akali MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha who questioned him about the Congress’ stand on legalising poppy husk vends, based on a statement made by a Congress leader in Tarn Taran a few days ago. This led to a slanging match between the two sides and raising of slogans, forcing the Speaker to adjourn the House. This time was used by the Congress to pacify Sekhri, who later said all was well after the two MLAs apologised to him. Later, Jakhar told mediapersons that the matter was internal and was resolved internally.

When the proceedings resumed and CM Parkash Singh Badal clarified the charges leveled against his government on the “man-made” agrarian crisis, the Opposition led by Jakhar demanded that the CM first explain his stand on the issue of a farmer, Kuldeep Singh, who committed suicide in Bathinda today. With the Speaker disallowing this interruption, the Congress MLAs boycotted the House.

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