The Punjab Assembly Mourns Dead Cows

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NEW DELHI ~ The Punjab Vidhan Sabha staff is currently struggling with a problem it has never faced before—who should receive the formal condolence message after the Punjab Assembly made an obituary reference to slaughtered cows. This formality is a requisite after an obituary reference is made, typically done on the opening day of the Assembly session. On 19 June, the Assembly session began with Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal reading out names of 14 people of some eminence who had died while the Assembly was not in session. Parkash Singh Badal then proposed that an obituary reference be made to cows killed at a bone-crushing factory in Joga village of Mansa district.

On 11 June, word had spread in Mansa that more than 30 cows had been butchered at the factory. In the course of a VHP bandh, four men on motorcycles escorting a van carrying cattle were set upon. They fled, their motorcycles were burnt and the cattle were set free. Problematic as the incident may be, Vidhan Sabha members were taken aback by Badal’s desire to appease any anger his alliance partner, the BJP, may have felt. Even the BJP itself was left dumbstruck by the obituary reference. So was Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar, who later found his tongue and managed to state that the reference amounted to a mockery of the Vidhan Sabha. Badal subsequently announced a Rs 2 crore memorial for the cows.

Obituary references were once confined to Assembly members. This was later relaxed to include people of eminence, which was soon reduced to the travesty of including any sundry relative of an MLA. But even in this atmosphere, cows are somewhat unexpected. Of course, Badal has always been one for extending the boundaries of what is considered proper decorum in the Assembly. At the end of the same session, he persuaded Congress member Mohammad Sadiq, singer- turned-politician, to sing a song. Sadiq, perhaps still a little unused to his new role, burst into song with the Assembly in session, much to the chagrin of his own party.