Sukhu averts crisis after speaker suspends rebels | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Sukhu averts crisis after speaker suspends rebels

By, New Delhi
Feb 29, 2024 11:30 PM IST

Sukhu, who was under fire after the rebellion of six lawmakers appeared to reduce the party to a minority in the 68-member House, accepted responsibility for the debacle

The Congress on Thursday appeared to have staved off a crisis roiling its government in Himachal Pradesh after the speaker disqualified six rebel lawmakers whose dissension cost the party a Rajya Sabha seat and cast a shadow over the future of chief minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu.

Himachal Pradesh CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu presides over a cabinet meeting with Congress MLAs, in Shimla on Thursday. (ANI)
Himachal Pradesh CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu presides over a cabinet meeting with Congress MLAs, in Shimla on Thursday. (ANI)

The Congress also announced a coordination committee to iron out differences between the party and the government at a joint press conference addressed by Karnataka deputy CM DK Shivakumar, Sukhu and his main rival, state unit chief Pratibha Singh.

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“We have spoken with all the MLAs, CM and state unit chief personally. All the differences have been sorted out,” said Shivakumar, who has emerged as the chief troubleshooter for the Congress in recent months, having worked to save the state government by meeting 32 lawmakers over the past two days along with former Haryana CM Bhupender Singh Hooda.

Sukhu, who was under fire after the rebellion of six lawmakers appeared to reduce the party to a minority in the 68-member House, accepted responsibility for the debacle and attacked the Bharatiya Janata Party. Singh accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to destabilise the government.

“I am very sorry that our senior leader lost in the Rajya Sabha elections. Our CM has accepted that some failures have happened,” Shivakumar said.

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.

Thursday began with high drama after former CM Virbhadra Singh’s son and public works minister, Vikramaditya Singh, did not turn up for a breakfast meeting called by Sukhu. Vikramaditya had resigned a day before and publicly accused the CM of disrespecting his father’s legacy, before appearing to backtrack on the resignation late at night. Pratibha Singh and Vikramaditya later met the central observers, where some of the issues raised by them were sorted out.

But speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania’s decision to disqualify six rebels immediately gave the Congress a cushion in the state assembly, and with it, some much-needed breathing room as it tried to keep its government afloat.

Pathania said the six legislators – Sudhir Sharma, Rajinder Rana, Chaitanya Sharma, Devender Bhutto, Inder Dutt Lakhapal, and Ravi Thakur –attracted the anti-defection law by defying the Congress whip during the vote on the finance bill.

“These six MLAs are disqualified and cease to be members of Himachal Pradesh legislative assembly with immediate effect,” he said, marking the first decision in the state’s history to disqualify any MLA.

Pathania told reporters that he had disqualified the MLAs on basis on “evidence on record” which showed that the six MLAs were in the House at the time of the passage of the finance bill but did not participate in the vote despite a whip issued by the Congress. The rebels challenged the order before the high court, but the decision brought the effective strength of the assembly down to 62 and the majority mark to 32 – below the Congress’s effective strength of 34.

To be sure, the courts can overturn the disqualification. The Sukhu government will also have to face six bypolls that have to be held within six months.

At a Cabinet meeting later in the day, Sukhu decided to constitute the 7th state finance commission to review the financial position of panchayats and municipalities and present the government with its recommendations.

Leaders aware of the discussions said many lawmakers expressed their anguish about Sukhu to the central observers, pointing out to slow developmental work and stalled transfer and postings. Pratibha Singh told the observers that Singhvi’s defeat could have been prevented if the CM had heard the MLAs, said rebel MLA Sudhir Sharma.

But Shivakumar said the differences were resolved.

“We are forming a co-ordination committee between the party and the government of five to six members. PCC president, CM and Deputy CM will be part of it. All of them have taken an oath that at any point in time, they will all work together to save the party,” he said.

When asked about future of Sukhu as CM, Shivakumar said that the Congress will complete its full term of five years. Hooda terms the question as “hypothetical” as Sukhu was still the CM.

Sukhu said all issues were sorted out and there was coordination between the party and the government. “The rebel MLAs will not be able to face the people of the state. I want to tell BJP leaders who are trying to topple the government that people will give them the right answer,” he said.

Shivakumar accused the BJP of misleading the people. “All Congress MLAs are with the party,” he said.

Himachal Pradesh BJP chief Rajeev Bindal said the Congress has “forfeited its moral authority to govern after its defeat in the Rajya Sabha election, despite holding a majority in the state assembly.” He also demanded the CM’s resignation.

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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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