A week after the two-year-old party drew up plans to resurrect its damaged image, Himachal Lokhit Party chief Maheshwar Singh on Sunday divested vanguard leader of the party, former legislator Khushi Ram Balnatah, of all party responsibilities.
Singh removed the senior leader from the post of the party’s organisational secretary and terminated him from the party’s core group. Balnatah was also the HLP’s vice-president.
The move came apparently in the wake of differences between the two leaders over support to Aam Aadmi Party.
In a letter personally delivered through an emissary, Maheshwar accused Balnatah of indulging in anti-party activities. “The party has been receiving information about you holding parallel meetings and that you have been instigating workers to leave the party,” Maheshwar alleged in the two-page letter.
Clarifying the controversy over support to AAP, Maheshwar wrote that at a meeting in Sundernagar on February 24, all core committee members, except former legislator Karam Dev Dharmani who was absent, had opposed a merger with the Bharatiya Janata Party. “All present at the meeting had vehemently opposed returning to the BJP fold,” he wrote, adding that he was asked to convey the sentiments to the BJP leaders in Delhi.
“All core committee members, except Dulo Ram, were present at a meeting held after my return from Delhi. Former transport minister Mohinder Nath Sofat endorsed the general view of not merging with the BJP, and all leaders were unanimous on extending support to AAP. It was your (Balnatah) own suggestion to unilaterally support AAP, while others at the meeting endorsed your views,” he said.
“It is saddening that on one hand, you participated in the party’s activities, and on the other, worked against its interests,” he added.
Maheshwar wrote he had also requested Balnatah to desist from parallel activities that harmed the party.
Expressing his anguish over Balnatah’s meeting with party workers in Bilaspur on March 13 even as the district meeting was scheduled on March 14, Maheshwar wrote, “You made an attempt to instigate leaders to leave the party.”
Accusing the senior leader of hobnobbing with the BJP, the Kullu MLA wrote, “Your activities are harmful to the party. Consequently, I am divesting you of the responsibilities of the organisation and removing you from the core committee,” he wrote.
Disciplinary action against Balnatah has come at a time when former legislators and second-run leaders are deserting the HLP to return to the BJP fold. Leaders were apparently unhappy with Maheshwar’s ‘pro-Congress’ stance in and outside the Vidhan Sabha.
Perturbed over Maheshwar’s action, Khushi Ram Balnatah said, “I did whatever I could to strengthen the party, except for dancing in the holy lodge (chief minister Virbhadra Singh’s private residence). I did whatever Maheshwar Singh asked me to do.”
Balnatah shot into the limelight for the first time when he contested the assembly elections against Virbhadra in Rohru in 1993. In the four elections he fought against Virbhadra,
Balnatah has consistently increased his vote tally. He was elected to the Vidhan Sabha in a byelection in 2009 after Virbhadra was elected to the parliament from Mandi.
Besides being a senior member of the HLP, Balnatah has been the chairman of the Himachal Pradesh State Cooperative Bank. He quit the BJP to contest assembly polls on HLP ticket from Kasumpti as Rohru was reserved for schedule caste candidates.