Twenty hours after 27 Congress MLAs began a dharna in the Punjab Assembly, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal called on them on Tuesday and asked them to call off the protest. The Opposition members, however, refused to budge, saying they would continue their protest on Wednesday.
The Congress MLAs have been protesting against the Speaker’s decision to not allow a debate on the no-confidence motion that was defeated by a voice vote on Monday.
“I am pained by the inconvenience that you have undergone here and request you to end the protest right away,” Badal told the MLAs, according to a government communique. He told them he would have called on them earlier but he had to take permission from the Speaker, who was unwell and had gone to hospital.
CLP leader Charanjit Singh Channi said the CM told them that he did not know about their ordeal during the night. “Can you believe a CM does not know what is going on in the Assembly?” said Channi. “I asked him if he had come for any proposal for Punjab. But he answered in the negative. We had no option.”
For the Congress MLAs, spending the night in the Assembly was not easy. The evening saw the electricity supply to the Assembly hall being disconnected. It was only after a call to the Vidhan Sabha secretary that some lights and fans were switched on. The air conditioners stayed off.
State Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh directed general secretary-cum-PPCC incharge Captain Sandeep Singh Sandhu to deliver dinner and water to his colleagues in the House. Sandhu sent dal, chapatis, burgers and french fries, and the MLAs took turns to eat at the CLP’s office.
Till 2 am, said MLA Bharat Bhushan Ashu, the legislators spent time cracking jokes and narrating anecdotes. But as night drew on, some of them slept on the benches. “It was very warm and humid… I lay down on the carpeted floor. The carpet was smelling,” said Ashu. “We took turns walking outside to get fresh air.”
At 6 am, some of the MLAs went home. While Rana Gurjit returned with breakfast, Dr Raj Kumar Verka and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot were not allowed to return as the Vidhan Sabha secretary had issued orders at 9.45 am that nobody would be allowed to enter the Assembly.
Some MLAs protested outside the Assembly, saying it was shocking that MLAs were being treated as “terrorists” and not being allowed to enter.
As for the MLAs who stayed in the Assembly, there was nowhere to bathe. “We sent for deodorant and a change of clothes,” said Ashu. Later in the day, MLA Ashwini Sekhri complained of uneasiness and was taken to hospital. Two others also took ill and left the House in the evening. Channi said the remaining 19 MLAs would stay another night in the House and protest during the session on Wednesday.