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Another Himachal twist as Vikramaditya Singh meets rebels

By, Shimla
Mar 02, 2024 04:43 AM IST

Vikramaditya Singh’s meeting with the rebels led to speculation that he had broken ranks and joined up with them

A day after the Congress government in Himachal Pradesh led by Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu appeared to have staved off a crisis, the fragility of his leadership was exposed in a series of dramatic twists as PWD minister Vikramaditya Singh travelled to Panchkula to meet the party’s six rebel legislators, and then made his way to New Delhi amid speculation that he may be open to switching sides to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Congress MLA Vikramaditya Singh speaks to the media on the disqualification of the six party MLAs, who cross-voted in Rajya Sabha polls, in Shimla on Thursday. (ANI)
Congress MLA Vikramaditya Singh speaks to the media on the disqualification of the six party MLAs, who cross-voted in Rajya Sabha polls, in Shimla on Thursday. (ANI)

The speculation was fuelled further with Congress state president Pratibha Singh, the wife of the six-time chief minister Virbhadhra Singh and Vikramaditya Singh’s mother, saying that there were a “lot of things that remain to be done in the Congress” and the the BJP was “working better” than the Congress.

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Chief minister Sukhu, too, appeared to send mixed messages — he first said that Vikramaditya was acting as a Congress emissary to bring the rebels back into the fold, but then but attacked the six MLAs for “betraying” the party and “selling their souls”.

Also Read | ‘Some rebel MLAs want to return to Congress,’ claims Himachal Pradesh CM

The crisis began on Tuesday after the Congress slumped to an embarrassing defeat in the Rajya Sabha polls, with party candidate Abhishek Singhvi receiving 34 votes after six Congress lawmakers and three independents previously backing the government supported BJP nominee Harsh Mahajan, who also received 34 votes. The tie was then resolved by a draw of lots, which favoured Mahajan.

The defeat fuelled speculation that the Sukhu government was reduced to a minority, sparking calls for his resignation. But speaker Kuldeep Pathania disqualified the six rebel MLAs on Thursday for defying the party whip during a discussion on a finance bill, giving the Congress some breathing room by bringing down the total numbers in the house to 62 members.

Vikramaditya, who had resigned from the cabinet accusing Sukhu of disrespecting his father’s legacy on Wednesday, also backtracked on his resignation on Thursday evening after meeting central observers Karnataka deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the Congress’s Himachal in-charge Rajeev Shukla. And the Congress created a coordination committee, sending a message that all was well, at least for now.

Also Read | Himachal Congress chief Pratibha Singh lauds BJP

But it was clear on Friday that it was not so.

Vikramaditya’s meeting with the rebels led to speculation that he had broken ranks and joined up with them. “Vikramaditya met us in Panchkula, and that is all I can say,” one rebel lawmaker said about the meeting. Congress leaders close to Vikramaditya said that he was in Delhi by Friday evening, but it was unclear who he planned to meet in the national capital.

Sukhu first attempted to portray his cabinet colleague’s trip as a Congress olive branch to the rebel lawmakers, and insisted that he had spoken to him at 7 in the morning, and then again at noon. “After the cabinet meeting (on Thursday evening), he went to Chandigarh and met the other legislators at Lalit hotel. He tried to influence their minds and some of them want to come back to the Congress,” he said.

The chief minister also said that one of the rebel MLA’s had spoken to him over the phone, expressing a desire to return to the party fold. “But he can only come back when he is within Himachal’s boundary. He is at Panchkula’s Lalit Hotel. I have just heard that more CRPF personnel have been stationed there,” the CM said.

Sukhu also met speaker Kuldeep Pathania, and Congress leaders said this was to explore the possibility of withdrawing the disqualification.

But these notes of reconciliation were a far cry from the aggressive tone Sukhu took at a public rally in Dharampur on Friday afternoon, where he accused the six rebel MLAs of “selling their souls”. “Those who betrayed the party and above all played with the sentiments of the people of the state will not be spared even by the almighty,” he said.

Sukhu said that the BJP had orchestrated the rebellion within the Congress, and accused leader of opposition Jai Ram Thakur of being “power hungry”. “The present government will complete its five-year tenure…my people are my strength and I am bound and committed to serve them till my last breath,” Sukhu said.

And while Vikramaditya said nothing on Friday, state Congress president Pratibha Singh laid bare the cracks within. “As an MP, I visit my constituency and try to interact with local people and solve their problems. It is true that the BJP’s working is better than ours,” the Lok Sabha MP told ANI.

When asked about Shivakumar’s comment at a press conference the previous day that current government would last its five year term, the state Congress chief seemed to cast some doubt. “Observer ke bolne se kya hota hai (what relevance does an observer saying it have). They are saying that they want the government to run five years. But it is the people who will decide what will happen in the future.”

She also said that she intends to meet Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, and that the party high-command had to come to a resolution at the earliest. But while she said she was not in touch with the BJP, she said she could not predict what would happen in the future. “Let’s see. I have spent my entire life in the Congress party. We started in the Congress party and are affiliated to the Congress ideology. I can’t say what will happen tomorrow,” she said.

BJP leader of opposition Jairam Thakur said that it was increasingly clear that chief minister Sukhu was losing support within his own party. “The political situation in Himachal Pradesh is such that whatever the Congress high command may say, things have not settled yet and there seems to be little possibility of that happening,” he said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Gaurav Bisht heads Hindustan Times’ Himachal bureau. He covers politics in the hill state and other issues concerning the masses.

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