Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu’s future tense as Congress battles to save Himachal govt | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu’s future in question as Congress battles to save Himachal government

By, New Delhi
Feb 29, 2024 09:32 AM IST

Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu’s position becoming more tenuous by the minute as Congress indicated that all options were open to save the Himachal government

The Congress on Wednesday scrambled to save its only state government in north India as it rushed senior leaders to Himachal Pradesh to placate six rebel lawmakers whose cross-voting cost the party a Rajya Sabha seat the day before and cast a shadow on the future of chief minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu.

Himachal Pradesh chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, Karnataka deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar,former Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Congress leader Rajeev Shukla during a meeting, in Shimla on Wednesday. (ANI)
Himachal Pradesh chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, Karnataka deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar,former Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Congress leader Rajeev Shukla during a meeting, in Shimla on Wednesday. (ANI)

The government survived a potential showdown in the state assembly after the speaker suspended 15 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmakers amid pandemonium in the House. Leader of Opposition Jairam Thakur and his party colleagues also met governor Shiv Pratap Shukla and argued that the Sukhu government was in a minority.

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Also Read: Sukhu claims Congress govt 'safe'

An air of inevitability hung around the hills of Shimla as Karnataka deputy chief minister and former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda met 32 legislators as the Congress found itself firefighting in yet another state after having being caught unawares by the BJP’s planning. In Delhi, the party indicated that all options were open to save the government amid speculation that the CM’s position was becoming more tenuous by the minute.

“The party interest is supreme… The Congress will not hesitate in taking tough decisions as the party is our priority and we will not let people’s mandate be betrayed in Himachal Pradesh,” senior leader Jairam Ramesh told reporters.

Also Read: CM Sukhu's first reaction amid reports of resignation

But the dissension in the state unit was apparent. Prominent minister Vikramaditya Singh, the son of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, resigned from the cabinet on Wednesday morning, accusing the CM of disrespecting his father’s legacy. But later in the day, he said that he will “not press” for the resignation.

“The party is above an individual. After speaking to observers and the CM, I have decided not to press for my resignation,” he said.

Late in the evening, Congress leaders hinted that changes in leadership were in the offing. Among the people who could be given more prominent roles were deputy CM Mukesh Agnihotri and minister Vikramaditya Singh.

The crisis began on Tuesday after the Congress slumped to an embarrassing loss in the Rajya Sabha polls in the state. 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.

But the shock defeat also meant that the Congress was unable to cross the simple majority mark of 35 in the 68-member House, fuelling speculation that the Sukhu government had been reduced to a minority, and sparking calls for the chief minister’s resignation.

Sukhu said he was a “fighter” and would ensure that the Congress remains in power for the remaining four years of its term. “Neither I have resigned nor I have offered to resign. All such news is wrong,” the CM told reporters.

But the Rajya Sabha debacle appeared to have damaged his standing within the party irreparably. Congress leaders said 32 of the 33 Congress lawmakers who met Shivakumar and Hooda – one legislator is in the hospital – wanted a change in state leadership. “I gave my honest opinion to the central observers,” said a Congress MLA.

Another legislator said the observers heard them “patiently” and noted down their “concerns” about the Sukhu government. “They also sought our opinion on who could be possible replacement of Sukhu,” said a third MLA, requesting anonymity. Several legislators blamed the CM for Singhvi’s loss, arguing that signs of rebellion within the party were visible for several weeks, said a senior state Congress leader.

The six rebel legislators returned to Shimla from Panchkula in BJP-ruled Haryana, and met the observers late in the evening, said Congress leaders. The rebels pointed out various problems, some were resolved and changes could be expected soon, the people quoted above added.

The Congress has 40 MLAs in the 68-member assembly and the BJP has 25. There are three independents who had backed Sukhu till now but changed tack on Tuesday.

The unexpected loss highlighted growing 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 polls.

The day began with the Congress apprehensive about facing a resurgent Opposition in the assembly to pass the finance bill. But the budget was passed through a voice vote after speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania suspended 15 BJP MLAs including Thakur, for “unruly behaviour”.

The BJP MLAs were demanding a division of votes on a motion brought by the party on grant of demands, arguing that the CM had lost the confidence of the house. Minutes after the budget passed, the House was adjourned sine die.

In the evening, Pathania initiated disqualification proceedings against the six Congress rebels and reserved his order on the disqualification petition moved by the Congress. Pathania had issued notice to the rebel MLAs in the morning. The six lawmakers, who returned to Shimla in a helicopter on Wednesday morning, sought seven days to reply to the disqualification notice.

All eyes are now on the observer’s report which is expected to be submitted to party chief Mallikarjun Kharge on Thursday.

The BJP vowed to keep the pressure up. In the meeting with the governor, Thakur said that Pathania wrongly rejected their cut motion and that Sukhu had lost the confidence of the House. The governor assured the BJP delegation that he will consider their memorandum asking him to direct the speaker to allow division of votes on the cut motion.

Late in the evening, Raj Bhavan officials said they were “closely” monitoring the situation.

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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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