Himachal Pradesh political crisis | Six Congress MLAs, who cross-voted in BJP’s favour, disqualified

The Speaker said the six rebel Congress MLAs had defied party whip issued during Budget session

February 29, 2024 11:39 am | Updated 11:33 pm IST - CHANDIGARH

Himachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania addresses a press conference in Shimla on February 29, 2024 regarding the disqualification of six Congress MLAs.

Himachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania addresses a press conference in Shimla on February 29, 2024 regarding the disqualification of six Congress MLAs. | Photo Credit: PTI

Amid the ongoing political turmoil in Himachal Pradesh, six Congress legislators, who had cross-voted in favour of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha polls on February 27, were disqualified from the Assembly by Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania on Thursday.

The ground for disqualification, however, was their absence from the Assembly when the State Budget and the Finance Bill were being put to vote, defying a party whip to vote in favour of the government.

The disqualified MLAs were: Rajinder Rana, Sudhir Sharma, Inder Dutt Lakhanpal, Devinder Kumar Bhutoo, Ravi Thakur and Chetanya Sharma. By evening, the information about their seats lying vacant were put up on the Assembly’s website.

Mr. Rana, a three-term MLA, said they would move the Supreme Court against the disqualification as many of his colleagues did not even get proper notice from the Speaker’s office. The motion for disqualification was moved by State Parliamentary Affairs Minister Harshwardhan. 

A team of All India Congress Committee (AICC) observers — Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Bhupesh Baghel and D.K. Shivakumar — told the media in Shimla that Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu had taken responsibility for Abhishek Singhvi’s defeat in the Rajya Sabha polls.

Asserting that the Congress government would complete its term of five years, the AICC observers announced that a six-member coordination committee would be set up to sort out internal differences.

Amid talk of leadership change because of growing complaints against Mr. Sukhu’s style of functioning by MLAs, the Chief Minister invited party MLAs for a breakfast meeting at his official residence.

“The Congress government is there and Mr. Sukhu is the Chief Minister. All the MLAs want the Congress government for five years,” Mr. Shivakumar said, when asked if the party would replace the Chief Minister after the Rajya Sabha fiasco.

Backing of MLAs

Sources told The Hindu that Mr. Sukhu, who had called himself a yodha (warrior), clearly conveyed to the team of AICC observers that he had the backing of at least 10-12 MLAs and changing him before the Congress takes a vote of confidence would be detrimental to the party’s interest.

The Chief Minister’s response is part of a pushback from him after he was blamed for the Rajya Sabha debacle. Sources said Mr. Sukhu had recently met Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Uttar Pradesh.

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

Sensing the collapse of the government, the Congress high command rushed the three observers while party general secretary Priyanka Vadra also worked behind the scenes. Her message was to take everyone along but come down hard on indiscipline.

Mr. Shivakumar said that the central observers had spoken to Mr. Sukhu, party MLAs and State unit chief Pratibha Singh individually and all differences had been ironed out. “All the MLAs have assured and taken an oath to work together to save the party and the government,” he said.

However, many believe that the Congress has merely deferred its problems. If there is no stay on the disqualification by a court, under Section 151A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the Election Commission is duty-bound to conduct bypolls to Assembly constituencies of Dharamshala, Lahul-Spiti, Sujanpur, Barsar, Kutlehar and Gagret within six months.

“With the disqualification, the Congress government has put itself in an uncomfortable zone. Whenever the Assembly by-polls are held, which could be along with the Lok Sabha polls as well, the Congress would have to put its best foot forward to win the seats again, which could become a difficult task amid the ongoing display of factionalism,” said a party leader, who requested anonymity.

In the 68-member Assembly, the majority figure is 35. The ruling Congress has 40 MLAs, but with the disqualification of six MLAs, the Congress number has fallen to 34. The strength of Assembly too has dropped to 62 and the majority figure stands at 32. But the threat to the government can’t be undermined as the BJP has 25 MLAs while three are independent MLAs. If the BJP manages to win all the six seats and gets the support of the independent MLAs, the Congress and the BJP would have equal number of MLAs.

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