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Himachal Pradesh’s Congress Govt Survives for Now Amid Defections in Rajya Sabha

The situation remains tense for the Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu-led government, as six defected Congress MLAs as well as three independents continue to stay away from the party.
Himachal Pradesh chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu during a press conference in Shimla on January 13, 2022. Photo: Facebook/ Information And Public Relations Department, Himachal Pradesh.

Chandigarh: A day after the Rajya Sabha defeat turned into a full-blown existential crisis for the Congress government in Himachal Pradesh, chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu did some damage control by outmanoeuvering the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) inside the assembly floor.

However, the situation remains tense for the Sukhu government, as six defected Congress MLAs as well as three independents continue to stay away from the party. This makes it easier for the BJP to engineer a collapse of the Congress government by mustering more number in the days to come.

Even if six defected MLAs were disqualified under anti-defection, as proceedings against them have already started, this would only bring down Congress’s existing strength of 40 MLAs in the 68-member state assembly.

While three senior Congress leaders have been sent to Shimla to douse the fire, the prevailing crisis evidently suggests that the leadership question has not fully settled in the party despite the high command-appointed Sukhu heading the government for almost 15 months now.

Most of the Congress rebels alleged that they were unhappy with Sukhu’s working style.

At the same time, the resignation of late Congress stalwart Virbhadra Singh’s son, Vikramaditya Singh, from Sukhu’s cabinet escalated the ongoing crisis in the party.

Virbhadra, an eight-time Himachal Pradesh chief minister, passed away in 2021. The family believed that they were not given proper recognition even after the party won the assembly election in 2022 on Virbhadra’s legacy.

Incidentally, late Virbhadra’s wife, Pratibha Singh, is currently the Himachal Congress chief even as the extreme crisis is unfolding in the party.

Congress survived budget session

A day after defeating Congress in the Rajya Sabha battle, BJP’s game plan was to topple the Sukhu government by demanding division of votes before Wednesday’s [February 28] presentation of state budget, which is a customary practice whenever the ruling government presents financial Bills in the budget session.

After nine MLAs cross-voted in favour of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha polls, the saffron party believed that the Congress no longer enjoyed a majority in the assembly and division of votes on financial Bills could collapse the government.

The BJP’s delegation, under former chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, also met the Himachal governor on Wednesday morning, demanding a division of votes ahead of the budget session.

But chaos reigned as the budget session was convened. Outmanoeuvering the BJP, the assembly speaker suspended as many as 15 BJP MLAs, leading the remaining 10 MLAs to boycott the remaining house proceedings.

This paved the way for the Sukhu government to pass the budget in the absence of opposition benches before the speaker declared the budget session sine die two days before the scheduled date.

At the same time, the Sukhu government too filed disqualification petitions against the Congress MLAs who voted for the BJP candidate in Rajya Sabha polls.

The hearing for the same was held by the speaker but has remained inconclusive so far.

After the session, Sukhu claimed that the budget was passed Wednesday and the conspiracy to topple his government by the BJP has been foiled. “Our govt will complete five years,” he claimed.

On the contrary, BJP’s Thakur claimed that the Congress had to suspend the BJP MLAs to save their government. But this government has lost the moral right to govern as it no longer enjoys a majority in the House.

While he did not reveal the BJP’s next course of action, other party leaders claimed that the Sukhu government is in for few days only.

BJP’s Harsh Mahajan – who won the Rajya Sabha elections Tuesday against Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi – told the media, earlier in the day, that that the BJP is going to form its government in the state.

Some more Congress MLAs are in touch with us. The situation is going to change and you will see that the BJP will form its government soon, he claimed.

Tug of war between the BJP and Congress top brass

With both the Congress and the BJP jostling for power in Himachal Pradesh, the top brass of both the parties are in a tug of war.

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra said, “In a democracy, the public has the right to choose the government of their choice. The people of Himachal Pradesh used this right and formed the Congress government with a clear majority. But BJP wants to crush this right of the people by misusing money power, power of agencies and power of the Centre.”

Harpal Cheema, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and now Congress’s alliance partner, also told the media that the work of horse-trading of MLAs has now started in Himachal Pradesh. This is unfortunate for the country, he said.

On the contrary, Union minister Anurag Thakur said that the Congress formed the government in Himachal Pradesh by giving big and fake promises. After the government was formed, none of those promises were fulfilled. People used to ask questions when Congress MLAs went to their constituencies, and they had no answers to give. That is why the Congress MLAs have started abandoning their party.

On the Speaker’s action to disqualify the BJP MLAs during the budget session, Thakur said that what the Speaker did was inappropriate. They don’t have the numbers, and they themselves set the first example of it.

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