Congress, Punjab speaker on collision course (Punjab Newsletter)

Chandigarh, March 16: The opposition Congress and Punjab Assembly Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal seem to be on a collision course, politically speaking.

Atwal, who belongs to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, has been the target of the Congress, which has accused him of being “biased”.

This week’s incidents inside and outside the assembly hall were quite unprecedented in the assembly’s history.

First, the Congress, spearheaded by Leader of Opposition Sunil Jakhar, brought a young woman who was the victim of a Punjab Police assault March 3 into the assembly complex. The victim was taken to the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) room by Congress legislators without a valid entry pass.

The Congress leadership apparently wanted to make a spectacle of the victim’s plight to embarrass the Parkash Singh Badal government for not taking enough action against her police assaulters to provide her justice.

Getting a whiff of the presence of the woman inside the assembly building, police personnel and assembly marshalls went to the CLP office to evict her. This was physically resisted by Congress legislators and some of them even allegedly thrashed the security personnel to prevent them from taking the woman away.

Other Congress legislators inside the assembly hall created a ruckus and even went up to the speaker’s podium. One Congress legislator, Jagmohan Singh Kang, even went and occupied the speaker’s chair. The speaker had left the chair after adjourning the house following the chaos.

Other Congress legislators could be seen trying to climb on to the speaker’s table and even standing on it or pushing away the assembly’s security staff.

Atwal termed the incidents a “criminal assault” on the assembly staff and blamed the Congress members for compromising the assembly’s security by bringing in “illegal entrants”. After suspending the Congress legislators, Atwal even pushed for registration of a case against them.

Last December, Atwal and the Congress were engaged in a duel after he suspended senior Congress leader Rana Gurjeet Singh, who was engaged in a verbal spat with cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia, brother-in-law of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, over Punjab’s deteriorating law and order situation.

While a video in which Majithia was heard using the choicest Punjabi epithets against Rana went viral on the Internet, Atwal claimed that he never heard Majithia saying anything. While Rana was suspended, leading to a boycott of the assembly’s winter session by the Congress, Atwal let Majithia completely off the hook.

Senior Congress leaders, including former chief minister Amarinder Singh, questioned Atwal’s “impartiality” as speaker and wondered how he had “not heard anything”.

Despite this Atwal, a former deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha (2004-2009), flatly refused to take action against Majithia.

The Congress-Atwal showdown seems far from over. With abusive language and physical action becoming order of the day inside the Punjab assembly, 85-year-old Parkash Singh Badal is indeed seeing “dark days for democracy” – his take on the entire episode.

(Jaideep Sarin Can be contacted at