Punjab Assembly: Oppn lays trap; fights for relevance, political space

The Chief Minister has so far tried to exercise sobriety and restraint and focus on his agenda of “good governance”, but the Opposition — AAP and SAD-BJP combine — will make every attempt to draw him into a confrontation.

By Manish Tiwari: It was probably for the first time in the history of Punjab Assembly that two Opposition MLAs got injured in a scuffle with the marshals and had to be taken to a hospital on stretchers. It was also a first that the newly-appointed Speaker, Rana KP Singh had to repeatedly invoke his authority and order the marshals to throw AAP and SAD-BJP legislators out of the House. Such a standoff, however, suits the Opposition which would always like to play the “victim card” to win public sympathy as well as the votes.

Till a few weeks ago, the Opposition was looking for some issue against the Capt Amarinder Government which had started on a positive note and looked focused on its agenda of ‘good governance’. The situation took a turn when both the AAP and the SAD-BJP combine tried to corner Irrigation and Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh following a news report in The Tribune, questioning his role in the auction of sand mines. Under pressure from outside and within, the Chief Minister was left with no option but to strike back. Within days, the State Vigilance arrested former Chief Engineer Surinderpal Singh — considered close to the previous Badal regime, and is now pursuing some other cases as well.

While Capt Amarinder who has loads of experience in handling government affairs would like to avoid any confrontation with the AAP and the SAD-BJP combine, the two Opposition parties will strive to do everything possible to outdo each other and slug it out to occupy political space and gain relevance.

The AAP was certain in the run-up to the 2017 elections that it would win 100 seats and form the government. So, it will take a while for the party to come to terms with its dismal performance and defeat at the hands of the Congress. Similarly, for the Akali Dal, which was used to a two-party system, it is equally difficult to accept the reality that a new party, the AAP is leading the charge and playing the role of the main Opposition. The Akalis undoubtedly have a far better understanding of State politics, and would like to grab every opportunity to lay a trap for the AAP even if it requires supporting the latter once in a while.

The Punjab Assembly saw a similar political move by the SAD when its president Sukhbir Singh Badal came in support of the AAP legislators after they were thrown out of the House by the marshals. He lodged strong protest observing that the Speaker should not conduct the proceedings like a “dictator” and vowed to fight against Rana KP till he was removed from the chair. It was the first time that both the parties were speaking the same language against the Government of the day.

The Opposition is not at all comfortable with a situation where Capt Amarinder is firmly ensconced in the saddle and there’s no one in the state Congress unit to challenge his authority or supremacy. Most senior Congress leaders who could pose a challenge to the Captain’s leadership, have either lost the election or their relevance. During the previous Congress rule, the Akalis had succeeded in manipulating some of them who launched a dissident movement against then Capt Amarinder’s Government and weakened him considerably at the time when the State Vigilance Bureau was going whole hog against the Badals and their ministers. So, the level of anxiety for the Akalis is a little more than last time since they are finding it difficult to make inroads into the Congress bastion and destabilise the Government. Needless to say, Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu is not on good terms with the Badals.

On the other hand, Capt Amarinder is surrounded by a set of ‘loyalist’ legislators who were hounded during the 10 years of Badal rule and now want him to take decisive action against the Akalis. Their emotions are running high and some of them have genuinely been putting pressure on the Chief Minister to let loose his vigilance to hit at the Opposition (read Akali leaders). How Capt Amarinder handles this situation remains to be seen.

There is another set of Congress leaders who are nursing ambitions of being in the CM’s chair and would like Capt Amarinder to get into a confrontation with the Opposition, especially the Akalis, and pursue the agenda of “the Vigilance-led politics” as his Government did during 2002-7. They are the ones who have been creating a perception that both Capt Amarinder and the Badals have a tacit understanding and for this reason, they want the Chief Minister to prove his credentials to the legislators and the party leadership. These leaders have already started getting the party MLAs to their fold and winning over their loyalty even as they would like to fire at their enemies from the Captain’s soldiers.

In the past 100 days, the Capt Amarinder Government has realised the pathetic financial health of the State and how difficult it would be for him to fulfill all his poll promises, including the complete waiver of farm loans. There is very little scope for his Government to maneuver and immediately bring the finances back on rails. So the pressure on the 75-year-old Maharaja of Patiala to perform is much more than last time.

I remember one of the editors telling me during my initial days of journalism that “Ignore is the best word in life”. But in politics, no party would like to be ignored. The Chief Minister has so far tried to exercise sobriety and restraint and focus on the agenda of “good governance”, but the Opposition will make every attempt to draw him into a confrontation. Capt Amarinder is one man who changed the course of Punjab politics in 2002. It remains to be seen what politics he plays now.

(manish@dailyworld.in)

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