Noisy scenes were witnessed in the Punjab Assembly on Monday with state minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia engaging in a heated exchange after the latter sought dismissal of the cricketer-turned-politician for his "utterances" in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack. Sidhu and Majithia used "objectionable" words against each other, which were lost in the verbal duel between the two legislators from Amritsar district. They also indulged in angry gestures and launched personal attacks against each other.
As Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal started reading his Budget speech, SAD-BJP MLAs protested against Sidhu's remarks. They stormed into the Well of the House and raised slogans against the local bodies minister, who sat in the front row of the treasury benches, demanding his ouster. The SAD-BJP members also flashed Sidhu's photographs, including that of him hugging Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during his visit to the neighbouring country last year.
Speaker K P Rana Singh tried to pacify them and asked them to return to their benches to allow disruption-free presentation of Budget, but SAD-BJP MLAs did not relent. After this, the speaker named all of them and asked the marshals to escort them out. He then adjourned the House for about 20 minutes.
The drama continued even after the adjournment, with Sidhu trying to chase the SAD-BJP MLAs who were heading out of the House. The visibly agitated minister was stopped by some Congress MLAs. After the House was adjourned, Cooperatives Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa expressed anger over his government's "inability" to "nail down" Majithia.
Earlier, before the session started, Akali leaders led by Majithia burnt Sidhu's photographs outside the House. "Before everything else, we want to know the clear stand of Congress and Punjab government. Do they condemn Pakistan Army chief and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan?" Majithia asked while addressing media outside the House.
"We want Sidhu should be thrown out of the Cabinet for his utterances," he said. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch and former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal also sought Sidhu's sacking.
SAD-BJP legislators sported black badges in the House and also tried to interrupt Sidhu every time he stood up for answering questions by raising slogans against him. After the Pulwana attack, in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed, Sidhu came under fire for his remarks wherein he asked whether an entire nation could be blamed "for a handful of people".
According to an official release, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said everyone had the right to voice their opinion and it was up to Sidhu to explain his stand on the Pulwama attack. Sidhu was a cricketer, while he (Amarinder Singh) was a soldier and both had different viewpoints on things, he said, adding that the minister must have realised that he had gone overboard with his Pakistan visit.
Sidhu does not understand defence intricacies and had possibly reacted out of a friendly motive, Amarinder Singh said. The minister's intentions were surely not anti-national and he must have got the message, he added.
The chief minister lambasted the Akalis for creating a ruckus on the issue in the Vidhan Sabha for political gains. Budget presentation is a vital proceeding, which the people of the state await eagerly every year, Amarinder Singh 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. Instead of playing the role of constructive opposition, they are repeatedly resorting to petty political tactics to remain in limelight, he added.
Amarinder Singh said the rowdy behaviour of the attention-seeking Akali leaders and members in the assembly had become a routine, suggesting that it was nothing but a drama aimed at garnering public support. Though disruption of House proceedings is unacceptable under any circumstances, it becomes totally abominable when aimed at gaining political mileage by indulging in pure theatrics, he said.
(With inputs from agencies.)