Twenty-seven Congress legislators spent Monday night inside the Punjab assembly, sleeping on the floor and seats of the House, as part of an unprecedented protest against the state government after losing a no-confidence motion. The Congress MLAs refused to leave the assembly building on Monday evening when the House was adjourned, demanding a fresh debate on the no-confidence motion against the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance.
“They keep switching off our lights and air-conditioners. We have no food and water for long hours. But we are fighting for Punjab and will not let the government browbeat us,” leader of opposition Charanjit Singh Channi said. As the night dragged on, assembly staff left the premises around 1am and television visuals showed legislators fanning themselves in the darkness and engaged in conversation with dim light from mobile phones.
The sit-in is part of a strategy to garner public attention on the last assembly session before state polls next year. Wednesday is the last day of the session with Tuesday being a holiday for Eid. Most of the senior MLAs left on Monday evening after the session with the exception of Sunil Jakhar, as the strategy was planned by the party’s young brigade. But there are differences in the Congress over continuing the sit-in. Some of the senior MLAs tried to join the protest in the morning.
Congress has 42 legislators in the assembly. Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh sent the legislators food packets from KFC at night. The party office in the assembly premises arranged food from an eatery later in the night. Amarinder is expected to meet the protesting MLAs today as a mark of solidarity.
Assembly secretary Shashi Mishra said the air-conditioners were switched off as they were maintained by Chandigarh staff, who left the premises after the session. She herself left at 1.15 am but some other staff stayed on, except women members. The Congress strategy to picket the assembly unfolded after it lost the no-confidence motion. The hour-long debate saw Congress storming to the well of the House against Akali MLAs Iqbal Singh Jhunda and Gurpartap Singh Wadala who were presiding in absence of the speaker, wearing a “proud to be an Akali badge”.
“It was totally undemocratic on part of the Speaker not to allow the discussion on anarchy, lawlessness and serious issues the state is facing under the SAD-BJP rule” Amarinder said.