Chandigarh: Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal on Monday was forced to cut short his budget presentation in the assembly on Monday due to protests by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders over cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s remarks on the Pulwama attack.
SAD MLAs trooped into the Well of the House demanding the resignation of the Congress leader, who had said a country (Pakistan) can’t be blamed for the actions of a few individuals.
Before the start of the Punjab budget session, Akali leaders set ablaze photographs of Sidhu, including those in which he is seen hugging the Pakistan Army chief, outside the House.
In the assembly, SAD leader Bikram Majithia and his supporters shouted slogans against Sidhu and hurled copies of the photographs at him. The legislators, who were wearing black badges, also tried to disrupt Sidhu’s reply by yelling slogans against him.
Sidhu then entered into a verbal duel with Majithia even as the speaker asked them not to disrupt the Question Hour.
The two leaders took potshots at each other, with Majithia asking the government to sack Sidhu for his “anti-national” remarks.
“Sidhu ka Pak prem murdabad (Down with Sidhu’s love for Pakistan),” he said, to which Sidhu said, “Tu Chitta Bikau, Chor, Daaku (You’re a chitta smuggler, thief and dacoit)”.
As the SAD leaders walked out of the House, senior cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said, “Despite it being our government, Majithia is threatening us and the government is doing nothing. He should be put behind the bars.”
All through the ruckus, Sidhu was virtually stranded alone to build his defence, as initially, none of the Congress leaders came to his aid.
The Congressmen sat aloof, watching silently, as Sidhu engaged in the fierce altercation that lasted for almost 10 minutes.
It was only during the last few minutes of the duel that party colleague Inderbir Singh Bolaria came to Sidhu’s rescue. Subsequently, other Congress leaders, too, rose up as chaos in the House intensified.
After his repeated appeals to douse the fiery argument fell flat on deaf ears, speaker Rana KP Singh asked the House marshals to escort the protesting members out of the House for the day’s proceedings. The House was then temporarily adjourned.
As the House proceedings resumed at 1 pm, Manpreet Singh Badal continued with his budget speech.
Sidhu had visited Pakistan to attend the oath-taking ceremony of Imran Khan, a cricketer-turned-politician, as Prime Minister on August 18 last year.
While reacting to the Pulwama attack, in which 40 CRPF lost their lives, Sidhu has said, “Terrorism has no religion and no country”. His comments created a great furore on social media and in political circles.
"Before everything else, we want to know the clear stand of the Congress and the Punjab government. Do they condemn the Pakistan Army Chief and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan?" Majithia asked, while speaking to reporters outside the House.
“After passing a unanimous resolution in the House for condemning the Pulwama terror attack, Sidhu was still saying ‘You cannot blame Pakistan, you cannot blame individuals’," Majithia said.
Time and again, Sidhu has been accused of harbouring a soft corner for Pakistan and its Prime Minister.
He earlier courted controversy when he visited the neighbouring country for Khan’s swearing-in ceremony where he hugged Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
He again visited Pakistan for the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor.
Sidhu has repeatedly said that he should be “judged for what he said and not for he didn’t say”.