High drama took place inside the Punjab Assembly Monday with a sharp verbal duel taking place between Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia even as fissures within the Congress ranks came to fore with Sidhu being almost left to fend for himself.
The budget speech of Finance Minister Manpreet Badal got disrupted as the SAD-BJP MLAs gathered in the well of the House and stood just a few feet away from Sidhu shouting slogans against him and Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. Waiving photographs of Sidhu hugging Gen Bajwa and sitting next to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, the MLAs protested against his alleged failure to condemn Pakistan for the Pulwama attack.
The slogans targeting Sidhu continued for over a half an hour without any intervention from anyone in the Congress ranks. Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was also present in the House when the incident took place.
Eventually, when the Speaker intervened and asked the SAD-BJP MLAs to desist from disturbing the House, Sidhu got up from his seat and entered into a verbal spat with Majithia. Even at this stage, no Congress MLA came to his aid for a long time until Amritsar (South) MLA, Inderbir Singh Bolaria came to Sidhu’s side and took on the Akalis and Fatehgarh Sahib MLA Kuljit Singh Nagra also rushed forward.
Later, Cooperatives Minister Sukhjinder Randhawa rose in Sidhu’s defence and starting shouting at Majithia. As more and more MLAs gathered around Sidhu, who was getting increasingly agitated, to support him, the Speaker asked the Marshals to escort the SAD-BJP MLAs out of the House for the rest of the day and adjourned the House for 15 minutes. Sidhu attempted to follow the SAD-BJP MLAs outside the House, but was restrained by some Congress MLAs.
More dramatic scenes took place when the house was adjourned as Sukhjinder Randhawa berated his fellow MLAs for not having adequately taken on Majithia. He could also be heard using disparaging terms about own government for not having acted against Majithia and allowing him to roam free. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Brahm Mohindra, Ferozepur MLA Parminder Singh Pinky and Sports Minister Gurmit Singh Sodhi gathered in a huddle around Amarinder even as Navjot Sidhu kept shouting at the top of his voice and gesticulating wildly.
To add to embarrassment of the Congress, the entire fracas was telecast live on news channels before the Speaker adjourned the House. Hardly had the Sidhu-Majithia spat ended that two Congress MLAs, Parminder Pinky and Bagha Purana MLA Darshan Singh Brar, were seen getting into a verbal duel over some issue.
Bikram Majithia and Parminder Dhindsa later told mediapersons outside the House that they were protesting in the well because they had been promised time by the Speaker to speak after the question hour on Sidhu’s issue but were later disallowed.
Later, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, according to an official release, said that everyone had the right to voice their opinion and it was up to Sidhu to explain his stand on the Pulwama attack.
The CM said that Sidhu was a cricketer, while he was a soldier and both had different viewpoints on things, adding that the minister should have realised that he had gone overboard with his Pakistan visit. Sidhu does not understand defence intricacies and had possibly reacted out of aFor over 30 mins, MLAs raise slogans against Sidhu with no intervention from Congress ranks friendly motive, Amarinder said.
Reacting strongly to the slogan-shouting by the Akalis, he said they had clearly lost all sense of morality and uprightness, as was evident in their desperate efforts every day to reduce the House proceedings to a mockery. About Sidhu, he added that the minister’s intentions were surely not anti-national.