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Himachal Pradesh: Ruling Congress Suffers Jolt, Loses Rajya Sabha Election to BJP

As nine MLAs from the Congress camp cross-voted – i.e., voted for the BJP's candidate – the BJP claims that the Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu government has been reduced to a minority and that many more legislators are ready to switch sides.
Shimla, bird's eye. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Aasiflone123

Chandigarh: In a shocking political development in Himachal Pradesh, the ruling Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi lost the Rajya Sabha election to the BJP’s Harsh Mahajan despite the Congress enjoying a comfortable majority in the state assembly.

Congress leaders who were present during the voting suggested that nine lawmakers, including seven party MLAs and two independents supporting the party, refrained from showing their ballot papers to their polling agents, leading to speculation that they voted in favour of Mahajan.

Both candidates secured 34 votes each in the 68-member state assembly.

Victory tilted towards Mahajan after a draw of lots was held as a tie-breaker.

Even as Himachal CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu targeted the BJP for its alleged horse trading and intimidation of Congress MLAs, the final result was big a blow for the Congress, which had a strength of 40 MLAs in the state assembly and the additional support of three independent MLAs against the BJP’s total strength of 25 MLAs.

The victory is even more detrimental in the wake of former BJP Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur’s claim that the Sukhu government has been reduced to a minority in the house and that the BJP plans to bring a no-confidence motion in the ongoing budget session in the assembly.

When asked about speculation that the BJP would bring a no-confidence motion against him, Sukhu said: “We will see when the assembly session commences … those who have cross-voted are being asked by their families why they did this. So, if the families are asking them, then maybe a few of them would think about ghar wapasi [Hindi for ‘returning home’].”

Earlier in the evening, Sukhu alleged that a convoy comprising Central Reserve Police Force and Haryana Police personnel took away five or six Congress MLAs.

Mahajan told the media: “The state government is in the minority right now. Fence-sitters in the government are ready to come to this side. They are unhappy with the government. They are so upset that they can do anything. This government won’t go on, it will topple with its own weight.”

This indicated that suspense is not over in Himachal’s politics.

Meanwhile in a first reaction, Singhvi said: “First of all, I extend heartiest congratulations to Harsh Mahajan. But I would like to tell his party, the BJP – introspect and think. When a 25-member party fields a candidate against a 43-member party, there is just one message – we will shamelessly do everything which is not permitted by the law…

“We will be living in a fool’s paradise if we think that alll those MLAs [who cross-voted] had a sudden change of heart due to some ideology or new policy. This is rather disappointing and something this hilly state has never seen before,” Singhvi added.

On the other hand, Mahajan dedicated his victory to top BJP leaders.

Leader of opposition Jai Ram Thakur will reportedly meet the state’s governor tomorrow and has sought Sukhu’s resignation.

Many aspect to the Congress’s defeat

The Congress’s defeat has many aspects. Some speculate that it was the outcome of infighting between Sukhu and Himachal Congress chief Pratibha Singh, who is also the wife of the late Congress stalwart Virbhadra Singh.

After the Congress’s victory in the 2022 assembly polls, Pratibha staked a claim on the CM post, which went to Sukhu as the Congress went for a generation shift after eight-time CM Virbhadra’s death.

Since then, their differences have  cropped up in the public domain several times.

This speculation becomes more rife because most MLAs who cross-voted in the BJP’s favour were once staunch supporters of Virbhadra.

Some people also believed that some MLAs were upset with Sukhu for not giving them plum postings in the government and that these MLAs had humiliated the party, especially in light of the fact that the Lok Sabha polls are round the corner.

Apart from this, Mahajan – the winning candidate – is an old Congress veteran who too had close relations with Virbhadra at one point of time.

This might have helped him swing many of his close associates to his side after the BJP fielded him.

Mahajan, who is also former working president of the Himachal Congress and a former cabinet minister, joined the BJP two months before the state assembly polls in November 2022.

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