Sukhu government in Himachal on brink as BJP stuns Congress in Rajya Sabha poll | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Sukhu government in Himachal Pradesh on brink after BJP stuns Congress in Rajya Sabha election

By, Shimla/new Delhi
Feb 28, 2024 07:23 AM IST

c: The shock loss in Himachal Pradesh, the only north Indian state ruled by the Congress, was a major jolt to INDIA bloc.

The Congress government in Himachal Pradesh teetered on the brink on Tuesday after six of its lawmakers cross-voted in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate in the Rajya Sabha polls, leading to a tie and the eventual victory of the latter by a dramatic lottery.

BJP candidate Harsh Mahajan celebrates after being elected as Rajya Sabha member at the Himachal Pradesh Assembly complex, in Shimla, on Tuesday. (PTI)
BJP candidate Harsh Mahajan celebrates after being elected as Rajya Sabha member at the Himachal Pradesh Assembly complex, in Shimla, on Tuesday. (PTI)

Congress candidate Abhishek Singhvi received 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.

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But the embarrassing loss also meant that the Congress was unable to cross the simple majority mark of 35 in the 68-member House, fuelling speculation that the Sukhvinder Sukhu government had been reduced to a minority, and sparking calls for the chief minister’s resignation. The government will face a battle for survival when a motion on the budget proposal comes up for discussion on Wednesday because the opposition BJP has insisted on a division of votes.

The shock loss in Himachal Pradesh, the only north Indian state ruled by the Congress, was a major jolt to the Opposition grouping that also suffered a setback in Uttar Pradesh, where seven Samajwadi Party lawmakers cross-voted in favour of the BJP candidate to sink the party’s third pick Alok Ranjan. Only in Karnataka did the Congress manage to hold on to its flock, and even engineer a rebel vote in the BJP, to win three of the four seats on offer in the state.

Whips don’t apply in the polls to the Upper House, but legislators have to show their ballots to the agent appointed by their party.

Himachal chief minister Sukhu accused the BJP of abducting some of its lawmakers to fix Mahajan’s victory. “Some people sold out their honesty... Nine cross-votings took place, three of them were independent MLAs but six others sold their honesty...and voted against him (Singhvi). Himachal’s people won’t tolerate this,” he said.

“I am grateful to the central leadership for reposing faith on me. I am thankful to the leaders of state who worked hard for me. I am also thankful to those nine MLAs who voted against me but remained present at the dinner and breakfast. I learnt a valuable psychological lesson,” said Singhvi.

ALSO READ- NCP's Praful Patel resigns as Rajya Sabha MP before end of term, explains why

The BJP hailed the victory of Mahajan, a former aide of long-time CM Virbhadra Singh, and underlined that the Congress appeared to have lost the majority in the assembly.

“After today’s results, the CM should resign because he has no moral right to remain in power,” said leader of Opposition Jairam Thakur, adding that he will bring a motion of no-confidence soon.

“From day one, I was sure that people will vote with their conscience,” said Mahajan

Out of the 15 Rajya Sabha seats that went to the polls on Tuesday, the BJP won 10, two more than what its numbers would have ordinarily allowed, the Congress won three, one less than its numbers, and the SP won two, one less than what its numbers would have projected. In all, out of the 56 seats that were up for grabs in this round of Rajya Sabha polls, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 33, the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance won 17, and others won six.

But the spotlight on Tuesday was firmly focused on Himachal Pradesh, where Singhvi’s defeat plunged the 14-month-old government in crisis because it couldn’t secure 35 votes – also the majority mark in the assembly – for its candidate.

Singhvi began the day with a comfortable cushion of eight — on paper. The party had 40 lawmakers in the 68-member assembly and the support of three other independents. On the other hand, Mahajan, with the 25 legislators of the BJP behind him, was 10 votes short.

But as the day progressed, it became clear that the Congress was in trouble. By afternoon, Sukhu admitted that some of his colleagues voted against Singhvi. Six legislators of the Congress were also moved to Panchkula in BJP-ruled Haryana under CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) security, prompting Sukhu to allege that the BJP had abducted its members.

By then, an uproar had broken out in the assembly after speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania didn’t agree to the Opposition’s demand for a division of votes on a cut motion, which is to reduce a budgetary allocation by a token amount in a bid to show that the government doesn’t have majority in the House. Thakur said the motion was passed by voice vote even though the government had lost majority. “Now not even God cannot save this government,” he said.

But revenue minister Jagat Singh Negi said 33 Congress MLAs were present in the House, compared to just 25 BJP lawmakers. “Therefore, the speaker took the right decision to reject the cut motion by voice vote,” he said.

Pathania adjourned the proceedings of the House till 11am on Wednesday, when a motion to pass the budget is scheduled to be taken up. “In case the budget is not passed, the government will lose majority,” admitted a Congress functionary on the condition of anonymity.

To be sure, during any vote in the assembly – including a trust vote – all Congress lawmakers will be bound by the party whip.

The counting of votes for the Rajya Sabha began at 5pm, triggering a flurry of objections from both sides. It was known by them that the three independents who had backed the party so far – Hamirpur MLA Ashish Sharma, Dehra MLA Hoshiyar Singh, and Nalagarh MLA KL Thakur – voted against Singhvi. Six more Congress lawmakers – DharamshalaMLA Sudhir Sharma, Gagret MLA Chaitanya Sharma, Kutlehar legislator Devender Bhutto, Badsar legislator Inder Dutt Lakhanpal and Sujanpur MLA Rajender Rana – also backed Mahajan, leading to a tie.

ALSO READ- Rajya Sabha elections 2024: Cong wins 3 seats, BJP bags 1 in Karnataka

After the result between Singhvi and Mahajan was tied, the poll authorities went for a draw of the lots — wherein the poll official picks one of two chits, with the two names written on them — from a container to decide who has won.

The three independents and six Congress rebels left Shimla soon after. Sukhu later alleged that a Central Reserve Police Force and Haryana Police convoy escorted the Congress MLAs. “The manner in which the counting has begun and Opposition leaders are threatening the polling officers again and again is not right for democracy,” he said.

Thakur, on his part, said the MLAs voted as per their “conscience” and that the results showed that the CM had lost the support of his own party.

Sukhu said he continued to have a full majority. “We have 34 people…the assembly session is on, we will see what happens. The people who went away, their families are asking why they did so. Maybe they will do ghar vapsi (homecoming),” he said.

ALSO READ- Rajya Sabha elections 2024: BJP wins 8 out of 10 seats in UP, SP bags two

Later, speaking at the News9 Global Summit, Union home minister Amit Shah said, “Congress is falling apart. The whole alliance is falling apart. They cannot hold on to their own people. They are not treating their own people properly and as a result they are falling apart.”

But the embarrassing defeat highlighted the dissension within the Congress, which won the 2022 assembly elections with a clear majority but has been riven by rivalry between groups loyal to Sukhu and state unit chief Pratibha Singh.

Mahajan, a three-time former lawmaker and minister in the Virbhadra Singh government who quit the Congress in 2022, had underlined this “rift” when he asked Congress lawmakers to vote as per their “conscience” in the run-up to the crucial poll.

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