Himachal Congress govt on brink

Himachal Congress govt on brink

Shimla/New Delhi: The Congress scrambled on Wednesday to save its government in Himachal Pradesh, amid dramatic developments that included a...

Shimla/New Delhi: The Congress scrambled on Wednesday to save its government in Himachal Pradesh, amid dramatic developments that included a resignation announcement by high-profile minister Vikramaditya Singh and the suspension of 15 BJP MLAs by the Speaker.

The crisis was triggered by Tuesday's cross-voting by six Congress MLAs in the Rajya Sabha election for the lone seat from Himachal Pradesh. The party has now sought the disqualification of these MLAs from the Assembly, and the matter was heard by the Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania who has reserved his order.

The suspended BJP MLAs, who include the Leader of the Opposition Jai Ram Thakur, initially refused to leave the House -- in an apparent bid to stall the Assembly from passing Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu government's Budget through voice vote.

The BJP wanted voting on the Budget, which they felt would reveal that the Congress has lost its majority in the Assembly. But in the afternoon, the crisis was staved off for the time being as the House passed the Finance Bill by voice vote with no Bharatiya Janata Party member being present.

The Speaker then adjourned the session sine die. Chief Minister Sukhu dismissed speculation that he was resigning. “Neither the high command, nor anyone else has asked me for resignation,” Sukhu told the media.

Congress stalwart Abhishek Manu Singhvi was defeated by BJP’s Harsh Mahajan on Tuesday through a draw of lots, after the two candidates bagged 34 votes each. The result meant that the Congress which had stormed into power in the state just 14 months back, winning 40 seats in the Assembly, had failed to reach the halfway mark. The Budget was still pending passage and the possibility of the Opposition BJP bringing a no-confidence motion loomed large.

The BJP won 25 seats in the House of 68 in 2022. There are three independent MLAs, who were believed to be with the ruling Congress till the cross-voting crisis erupted.

Leader of Opposition Jai Ram Thakur took a delegation to Raj Bhavan around 7.30 am on Wednesday, asking Governor Shiv Pratap Shukla to ensure that the Finance Bill was passed only through a division.

In Delhi, the Congress mounted a damage control exercise to stop the possible loss of a party-ruled state just weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge dispatched three observers -- Bhupesh Baghel, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and D K Shivakumar -- to Shimla, and the party indicated that it could take some “tough steps”.

In the evening, the observers had begun their interaction with party MLAs. Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said Kharge has asked the observers and AICC in-charge for the state Rajeev Shukla to speak to all MLAs, including those who are disgruntled, and submit a comprehensive report to him soon.

“The Congress will not hesitate to take some tough steps as the party is our priority and will not let the people’s mandate be betrayed in Himachal Pradesh,” Ramesh told reporters in Delhi.

Earlier in the morning, Himachal Pradesh Public Works Minister Vikramaditya Singh announced he was quitting the council of ministers and will submit his resignation to the Chief Minister and the Governor. It was not immediately clear whether he had done so. Singh, whose mother is Himachal Congress president Pratibha Singh, said, “There have been attempts to humiliate and undermine me from some quarters and in spite of reservations, I supported the government.”

He is the son of Virbhadra Singh, a former chief minister who died in 2021. The family has in the past thrown hints that Virbhadra Singh’s legacy has not been honoured by the party. Pratibha Singh has also expressed disgruntlement with the manner in which Sukhu has run the state.

In the Assembly, there was chaos when the House met in the morning. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Harshwardhan Chauhan moved a motion seeking suspension of BJP MLAs for allegedly disrespecting the Speaker. The motion was adopted by voice vote, and the Speaker axed 15 MLAs.

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