A war of words on the financial condition of Punjab played out between estranged cousins — Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal and Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal — in the Vidhan Sabha Monday, leading to a brief adjournment of the House.
The SAD-BJP legislators and members of the ruling Congress stood up in support of their respective leaders and raised slogans, resulting in acrimonious scenes on the concluding day of the budget session.
The drama began immediately after Manpreet, winding up the discussion on Budget estimates, accused the previous SAD-BJP government of pushing the state into a “debt trap”.
However, Sukhbir, who attended session only on the last day, questioned Manpreet’s fiscal prudence saying he was not “fit” to be finance minister as he had “no knowledge” of the subject. “He has done his MA in History and should have been allotted tourism portfolio. He does not know anything about finance,” the former deputy chief minister said while saying that the figures were “fudged” in the budget.
Manpreet hit back saying the previous government did nothing except “looting” Punjab. “(Partap Singh) Kairon Sahib ruled Punjab as CM for eight years and five months and he is still remembered for his work. (Parkash Singh) Badal Sahib remained CM for 19 years and 10 days and nobody remembers him. It is not about the length of the time, but the work one does,” he said.
Sukhbir objected saying Manpreet was targeting a man because of whom he was an sitting on the chair as an MLA. (Jina karke is kursi te baitha, jina gurhti ditti).
Manpreet reacted sharply; “Parmatma di nusrat naal (kursi te) baitha haan. Je Badal Sahib de vas hunda ethe baith sakde si? Nahin baith sakde si (It is due to the blessings of the God that I am a minister. I would not have been sitting here, had Badal Sahib had his way,” he said.
As the the verbal duel continued, Congress members led by minister Navjot Singh Sidhu came out in support of Manpreet, while SAD-BJP legislators rose on their feet and shouted slogans against the Finance Minister.
The Speaker’s pleas for calm went unheard by both political parties, following which he adjourned the proceedings for 15 minutes.
Earlier, during the resumed debate on budget, Sukhbir said, “Everything is manipulated, a cover up and deceptive”. Calling the government “driverless, with no planning and no target”, Sukhbir pointed to number of “economy indicators” to term the budget “a drama”. He said the incumbent Punjab government was “surviving due to Modi government, which was giving it a GST compensation of 35 per cent, second highest after Puducherry”.
Manpreet, in a point-by-point rebuttal, dismissed the allegations. “My religion is to present clear image of State’s finances,” he said adding it had been a “tight rope walk for the last two years. Next year onwards, we will start saving money and we will be out of the debt trap”.
Manpreet’s sharpest attack on Akalis was on the issue of Rs 31000-crore loan against the outstanding cash credit limit at the fag end of demitting office. Manpreet also read out an email on the issue by then Punjab chief secretary and said by getting the outstanding CCL limit converted to a long term loan, the SAD had pushed “two to three generations into slavery”.