CM-Governor rift widens, bad blood on the way

A bill passed during a special Punjab assembly session held last week to remove Governor Banwarilal Purohit, as Chancellor of all the 11 state universities has become the latest flashpoint  in the ongoing tussle between CM Mann and Purohit, writes Rajesh Moudgil

It was on June 20, the last day of the two-day of special session convened by chief minister Bhagwant Mann-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab, that passed a Bill to ensure free Gurbani telecast from the Golden Temple, Amritsar, and, another Bill to remove governor Banwarilal Purohit, as Chancellor of all the 11 state universities. The same has whipped up a fresh furore with not only Purohit but all the opposition parties gunning for Mann.

For the record, in the House of 117 members, the ruling AAP has 92 legislators, Congress, 18, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) three, BJP two, while one belongs to BSP, an ally of SAD. There is also one independent MLA.

The Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2023, was passed amid opposition from Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and its ally BSP legislators inside the House, and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) outside it, besides the other opposition parties, namely Congress and BJP.

The Bill aims to make the broadcast and telecast of Gurbani from Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) free for all. The rights for the same have so far been with PTC channel, a private channel which is often linked to the SAD’s Badal family.

Speaking on the Bill, Mann said that the Bill aimed at freeing the undue control of a particular family over the rights to telecast sacred Gurbani. He said that it was a paradoxical situation that SGPC under the influence of a family that controlled its affairs, had given intellectual property rights of telecasting the sacred Gurbani to a channel owned by them.

The SAD member, Manpreet Singh Ayali opposed the Bill saying that the government should not interfere in the affairs of the SGPC, an elected body. Nachhatar Singh of BSP, which is an ally of SAD, also opposed the Bill saying before taking such decisions, religious bodies and others concerned should be consulted.

Also, while several of the top Congress leaders including state chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring as well as state BJP chief Ashwani Sharma have flayed the AAP move, the SGPC has met the governor and demanded from him to nullify the Bill.

Varsities bill also passed

The House also passed Punjab University Laws (Amendment) Bill 2023, thereby removing the governor from the post of chancellor of all the 11 state varsities and vesting the powers of the chancellor with the CM.

 Speaking on the Bill, Mann held that the governor, who was not from the state and was not aware of its history and culture, created unnecessary hurdles in it. He further alleged that contrary to securing the interests of the state, the Punjab governor was often seen on the other side – Haryana. Citing the issue of Panjab University (PU), he said that instead of safeguarding the interests of Punjab and Punjabis, the governor had been taking the stance in favour of Haryana. Mann said that this was a very strange situation as the governor was doing all these gimmicks just to appease his political masters sitting in Delhi.

This issue was seen as a fallout of the rift between the two which had earlier erupted when the governor had stalled the selections for the post of VCs of a few varsities, citing lapses in the selection procedure.

Governor questions session’s legality

Banwari Lal Purohit, Governor of Punjab

However, reacting to the Bills, Purohit said that he would examine the constitutional legality of the two-day special House.

He told newspersons that it was to be seen whether the special session was an extension of the Budget session held in March because the House was not prorogued and that if the special session was an extension, it was to be examined that, could the Bills be passed or the proceedings should have been limited to the business related to the Budget. He said that in case it was found that the procedure was not followed, then these Bills would face rejection.

 Referring to the PU issue, Purohit held that this matter had come to light last year during the meeting of the inter-state north zonal council when it was said that the Punjab government was not paying its share of 40% of the university’s budget. He further held that while Haryana government offered to support the varsity seeking affiliation of its colleges in the three neighbouring districts, the council chairman asked the UT Administrator (Purohit is also UT Administrator) to intervene and this was why he had raised the issue.

 Reacting to Mann’s comment that the governor was acting like a British-era viceroy, Purohit said that the school in which Mann was studying, he had retired as its headmaster. Terming Mann’s remarks as “derogatory’’, he also said he could not match their level as he had to maintain the Raj Bhawan’s dignity.

Remarks on ‘beard’ also flayed
Meanwhile, Mann’s remarks on “beard’’ of some leaders during the session have also evoked sharp criticism from SAD and Congress leaders.

It may be recalled that Mann had, without naming any leader, taken a dig at “some leaders who rolled up or kept flowing their unshorn beard depending upon the situation and requirement’’, during the session.

Senior SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia tore into Mann for his remarks on the beard of some Sikh leaders, which, the former alleged was a “shameless act of ridiculing beard of a Sikh and a systematic attack on the unique identity of the Khalsa panth (Sikh community)’’.

Majithia, a former three-time legislator, also took on the House Speaker Kultar Singh Sandhwan saying that it was shocking that Sandhwan felt no hurt to his religious sentiments and kept smiling in his chair watching Mann tearing Sikh religious heritage to pieces.

Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, wife of SAD president Sukhbir Badal, also took to social media to say that she could not believe that “an atheist and arrogant person was making fun of beard which was an inseparable part of Khalsa identity given by Guru Gobind Singh Ji….’’.

Congress leader Sukhpal Khaira also condemned the remarks of Mann saying that he strongly condemned the remarks by Punjab CM on the beard of Sukhbir Singh Badal. This was an identity of a Sikh and the CM had insulted the identity by making such remarks. He must apologise for his words, Khaira said.