Congress government fights for survival in Himachal Pradesh

Assembly adjourned a day early; Congress moves disqualification notice against six rebel MLAs for being absent during the passage of the Budget; AICC team to find out MLAs’ grievances

February 28, 2024 10:37 pm | Updated February 29, 2024 02:32 am IST - CHANDIGARH/NEW DELHI

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu with Congress observer Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar in Shimla on February 28, 2024.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu with Congress observer Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar in Shimla on February 28, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Congress government in Himachal Pradesh managed to survive the immediate threat to its existence on Wednesday, passing the State’s Budget for 2024-25 in the State Assembly after suspending 15 BJP lawmakers, including Leader of the Opposition (LoP) Jairam Thakur.

The Budget Session of the Assembly was adjourned sine die (indefinitely) soon afterwards, a day before it was scheduled to conclude on February 29. Himachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker Kuldeep Pathania reserved his order on a disqualification motion against six Congress MLAs who were absent for the vote passing the Budget.

Leadership tussle

In another twist to the current crisis, State Cabinet Minister Vikramditya Singh announced — and then took back — his resignation, bringing the leadership tussle in the State Congress unit to the fore. Mr. Singh is the son of the former Chief Minister late Virbhadra Singh and Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Pratibha Singh.

He withdrew his resignation within hours, after the party sent out mixed signals. Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu sounded conciliatory, making a “Vikramaditya is like my younger brother” referrence in Shimla; in Delhi, however, the party only said that it was weighing all options. Congress communicatiosn chief Jairam Ramesh asserted that the party would not hesitate to take tough actions to save its government and protect the mandate of the people of Himachal Pradesh.


The State was pushed into political turmoil on Tuesday, when Abhishek Singhvi, the ruling Congress party’s nominee for the State’s sole Rajya Sabha seat lost the election to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Harsh Mahajan after six Congress MLAs voted in favour of the BJP, threatening the survival of their own government.

In damage control mode, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge deputed Bhupesh Baghel, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and D.K. Shivakumar as the All India Congress Committee’s (AICC) observers, asking them to submit a report after talking to all the party MLAs and finding out their grievances.

Mr. Kharge is also said to have spoken to former party chief Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on the Himachal Pradesh developments.

Conspiracy foiled: CM

The Chief Minister told reporters in Shimla that the Budget had been passed in the Assembly, insisting that the government would complete its five years as the conspiracy to topple it has been foiled. Mr. Sukhu dismissed reports that he had quit the CM’s post.

He added that a disqualification motion had been brought against the six Congress MLAs who had cross-voted in favour of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha polls, for being absent during the cut motion during the passage of the Budget in Assembly.

15 MLAs suspended

As the Assembly witnessed chaotic scenes, the Speaker, Mr. Pathania, suspended 15 of the 25 BJP MLAs amid an adjournment. The remaining 10 BJP MLAs staged a walkout and in the absence of any Opposition, the Budget was passed with a voice vote. The government would have technically lost the confidence of the House if it had failed to pass the Budget.

“They had to pass the Budget somehow, otherwise the government would have fallen. For this, they had only one way to reduce the number of BJP MLAs, and today 15 MLAs were suspended without any reason,” Mr. Thakur alleged.

‘Operation Lotus’

Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters in Delhi, however, Mr. Ramesh accused the BJP of attempting “Operation Lotus” in the hill State to dislodge the Congress government.

“We cannot lose the mandate through the BJP’s ‘Operation Lotus’ as only the people of the State can take it back. All options are open and the mandate that the Congress got has to be respected,” Mr Ramesh said.

“The Congress will not hesitate to take some tough steps as the party is our priority and we will not let the people’s mandate be betrayed in Himachal Pradesh. Individual’s interests are not important, the party is supreme and so is the people’s mandate ,”he added.

Fixing accountability

Mr. Ramesh also said that accountability would be fixed for the cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha poll that ensured the loss of the party’s nominee. The report to be submitted to Mr. Kharge must have two parts, on why the cross-voting happened, and what steps are needed to save people’s mandate in the State.

Party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who was one of the main campaigners in the December 2022 Assembly polls, alleged that the BJP, which had failed to stand with the people of the State when hit by a natural distater, now wants to push it into a “political disaster”.

“If a party with 25 MLAs is challenging the majority of 43 MLAs, then it clearly means that it is dependent on horse-trading of representatives,” she said in a post on X.

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