HP Congress MLAs Seek New Leadership

The Asian Age.  | Yojna Gusai and Ashhar Khan

India, Politics

The knives are out in the party's state unit, with several leaders demanding a leadership change in the hill state

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu with Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar during a meeting, in Shimla, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (PTI Photo)

New Delhi: A day after six Congress MLAs voted in favour of the BJP candidate in the Rajya Sabha polls in Himachal Pradesh, the knives are out in the party's state unit, with several leaders demanding a leadership change in the hill state.

As the fate of the Congress government led by chief minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu hangs in balance, the Congress observers -- former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Karnataka deputy chief minister D.K. Shivakumar -- are in Shimla speaking to all MLAs, including those who are disgruntled. The future course of action will be decided after they submit a comprehensive report to the high command of the Congress.

Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly Jai Ram Thakur on Wednesday met governor Shiv Pratap Shukla. After the meeting, he said, “The Congress is frustrated now… Their government is in trouble not because of us but because of their own deeds.”

Mr Thakur told the media: “The Congress has lost the mandate, is all I can say. Right now, the Congress government has no right to remain in power.”

The LoP stated that he had apprised the governor of “what all happened in the last two days”.

In a jolt to the beleaguered ruling party in Himachal Pradesh, Congress MLA and urban development minister Vikramaditya Singh resigned on Wednesday from the state Cabinet. He is the son of Himachal Pradesh stalwart and former chief minister late Virbhadra Singh. His mother Pratibha Singh is a Lok Sabha MP and state Congress chief.

Mr Singh said that he was pained to resign from the Congress. But he took this step out of frustration and humiliation. However, after meeting the Congress observers, Mr Singh said, "There is a difference between taking back the resignation and not pressing the resignation until the dialogue and the action of the observers are complete... We have talked to the observers. We have informed them about the present situation... I will not press my resignation until a decision is taken. The final decision will be taken soon..."

However, the chief minister said that he would want Mr Singhto to continue and is not inclined to accept his resignation. Mr Sukhu asserted: "Despite the setback, I want to emphasise that the people of Himachal are with us, the MLAs are with us, and I can confidently state that we will lead the Himachal government for the next five years.

The Congress rebels are seeking to install a person of their choice as the new chief minister of the state. Speaking to the media, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said, "The Congress will not hesitate to take some tough steps as the party is our priority and we will not let people's mandate be betrayed in Himachal Pradesh."

During the day, the Assembly saw stormy sessions as 15 MLAs of the BJP were suspended by the Speaker for unruly behaviour. The remaining 10 MLAs of the BJP walked out and the state budget was passed, after which the House was adjourned sine die.

Interestingly, Mr Singh voted for passing the budget on party lines.

The six MLAs who cross-voted in the Assembly during the Rajya Sabha election have been given notice by the Assembly speaker for defying the official whip of the party. The Speaker has summoned them for a hearing.

After the state budget was passed, Himachal Pradesh parliamentary affairs minister Harsh Vardhan Chauhan said, "The Congress government proved its majority today and passed the budget. Six rebel MLAs were also found absent today during the passing of the budget. I told the Speaker about this. We filed a petition yesterday to disqualify them and a hearing was held today... The Speaker will now take a decision on this..."

Reacting sharply, Mr Thakur said, “Now they are moving towards taking action against the MLAs who supported the BJP candidate. We will fight the battle."

Meanwhile, Mr Hooda and Mr Shivakumar also met the Congress state unit chief, Mr Sukhu and deputy chief minister Mukush Agnihotri on Wednesday.

After the meeting, Ms Singh said, “You all know that after the formation of the government, some things were not going well. We had informed the party high command about this to resolve it. More than a year has passed, but no decision has been taken. Due to which we are facing such a situation now. Vikramaditya Singh has not resigned from the party. He has said that he has resigned, but the chief minister has not accepted it yet. This is for those who have come as observers. It's up to them to decide what to do about it... Let's see what happens."

According to sources, the Congress in Himachal Pradesh has earned a temporary respite. If proper steps are not taken soon, the party may lose another state.

In the 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly, the Congress has 40 MLAs, while the BJP has 25 legislators. The remaining three seats are held by Independents.