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Uphill battle in hill state? Congress rushes to salvage Sukhu government after RS poll setback

The Congress on Wednesday scrambled to save its government in Himachal Pradesh after the Rajya Sabha poll shock by quickly passing the Budget, suspending 15 BJP MLAs from the Assembly, and initiating disqualification process against six of its rebel MLAs.
Last Updated 28 February 2024, 13:16 IST

New Delhi: The Congress on Wednesday scrambled to save its government in Himachal Pradesh after the Rajya Sabha poll shock by quickly passing the Budget, suspending 15 BJP MLAs from the Assembly, and initiating disqualification process against six of its rebel MLAs.

Mounting pressure on the central leadership to replace Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu as Chief Minister, influential minister Vikramaditya Singh resigned from the Cabinet, while several MLAs are said to have expressed their desire to see a new leader at the helm.

The party dispatched Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar and former Chief Ministers Bhupinder Hooda and Bhupesh Baghel to Shimla as observers. Their mission: to engage with MLAs, investigate the circumstances leading to the defeat of the party's nominee Abhishek Singhvi in the polls, despite the party holding a majority. Additionally, they are tasked with addressing the demand for the removal of Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu as Chief Minister. A report on their findings is expected to be submitted by Thursday.

The observers, who reached Shimla, met Sukhu as well as Vikramaditya in the evening. Congress Himachal in-charge Rajiv Shukla said Sukhu as well as the party's central leadership have made it clear that they are not going to accept Vikramaditya's resignation and he has agreed to not press his resignation.

The Congress appeared to have saved its government, at least for the time being, as the Speaker suspended 15 of the 25 BJP MLAs, including Leader of the Opposition Jai Ram Thakur, on charges of disrespecting the Chair. The House was adjourned sine die after passing the Budget, while the remaining Opposition MLAs walked out.

With the BJP seeking a vote on the Budget while six Congress MLAs have cross-voted in favor of the BJP candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections, Congress managers opted to have 15 of their opponents suspended from the House. This move aimed to strengthen the government's position.

With six party MLAs and three supporting independents voting against, Singhvi secured only 34 votes, falling short of the required halfway mark of 35. A defeat in the Finance Bill would have resulted in the government's downfall.

Sources said Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge has tasked the three observers to speak to all MLAs, amid indications that the party is willing to take some “tough” decisions.

Congress General Secretary (Communications) Jairam Ramesh told reporters, “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.”

Earlier in the day, Vikramaditya announced his resignation from the ministry, stating that he had informed the central leadership about his difficulty in continuing to work with Sukhu even for an hour.

“There have been attempts to humiliate and undermine me from some quarters, and despite my reservations, I supported the government,” said Vikramaditya, the son of former Chief Minister late Virbhadra Singh and Himachal Congress chief Pratibha Singh.

Sukhu stated that he has not accepted the resignation and intends to discuss the matter with Vikramaditya and others. Although there were reports suggesting that Sukhu had conveyed his willingness to resign to the central leadership, he clarified to reporters in Shimla that he had not submitted his resignation.

Additionally, Sukhu mentioned that petitions for disqualification against the six rebel Congress MLAs have been submitted.

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(Published 28 February 2024, 13:16 IST)

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