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regular-article-logo Saturday, 25 May 2024

Congress buys Himachal Pradesh truce, disqualifies six rebel MLAs

'The differences have been sorted out and we will fight the Lok Sabha elections with unity,' Bhupinder Singh Hooda, one of the party’s central observers, said.

Sanjay K. Jha New Delhi Published 01.03.24, 06:02 AM
(Extreme right) Former chief minister Virbhadra Singh’s son Vikramaditya at chief minister Sukhu’s media conference in Shimla on Thursday.

(Extreme right) Former chief minister Virbhadra Singh’s son Vikramaditya at chief minister Sukhu’s media conference in Shimla on Thursday. PTI picture.

The Congress seems to have effected a temporary truce between its warring factions in Himachal Pradesh after warding off the looming external threat to its government by disqualifying the six MLAs who had voted against the party nominee in Tuesday’s Rajya Sabha elections.

To pacify the family of late chief minister Virbhadra Singh, which had openly come out against chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, the party has promised a six-member coordination committee in the state that will balance the political interests of all sides till at least the general election.

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“The differences have been sorted out and we will fight the Lok Sabha elections with unity,” Bhupinder Singh Hooda, one of the party’s central observers, said.

This means the high command doesn’t want to disturb the chief minister at a time the campaign for the Lok Sabha polls is about to begin.

Sukhu enjoys the trust of Rahul Gandhi, and there is a perception that he was the target of a BJP-sponsored conspiracy, having dealt firmly with a corporate group that has business interests in the hill state.

Political complacency having cost the Congress a Rajya Sabha seat on Tuesday despite having the numbers, the party has now moved swiftly to salvage the situation in Himachal.

It has got the six rebel MLAs disqualified within two days of the cross-voting — a speed few would have expected from a party known for being indecisive and lackadaisical.

The rebel MLAs and those pulling the strings from behind them would not have anticipated such action because the anti-defection law does not apply to Rajya Sabha
elections, where no whip is issued.

The rebels would therefore have hoped to continue executing the BJP’s plans even after betraying the Congress. They clearly enjoyed the support of Virbhadra’s family too, with his widow Pratibha Singh insisting the central leadership should have talked to them and arguing the disqualifications would hurt the party in the Lok Sabha polls.

But the Congress, having lost multiple state governments to the BJP via mass defections in recent years, was not ready to risk nurturing conspirators within its ranks.

Assembly Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania invoked the anti-defection law against the six rebels, saying they had defied the party whip by failing to participate in the vote on cut motions and the demand for grants a day after the Rajya Sabha elections.

The Congress had issued a whip for the passage of the budget, and the anti-defection law does apply in this case.

The lawyer representing the rebel MLAs had sought more time, arguing their absence from the Assembly could have had legitimate reasons such as illness. But the Speaker rejected the plea because the MLAs were present on the Assembly premises and marked their presence that day.

The disqualified MLAs —Rajinder Rana, Sudhir Sharma, Inder Dutt Lakhanpal, Devinder Kumar Bhutoo, Ravi Thakur and Chetanya Sharma — have now approached the high court against the Speaker’s order.

The proceedings will go on, but the Congress continues to enjoy a simple majority in the Assembly – a smaller majority than before but one less fraught with risks.

The disqualification has reduced the strength of the House from 68 to 62, and the Congress has 34 MLAs, two more than it requires.

Defending his prompt action, the Speaker said the spirit of the anti-defection law and several past Supreme Court orders had guided him as he tried to minimise the impact of defections and the so-called horse-trading.

However, the threat from Virbhadra’s family and the corporate interests that want a change of chief minister persists.

The unease in the anti-Sukhu camp was visible on Thursday after the Speaker’s ruthless action. However, though Virbhadra’s son and MLA Vikramaditya Singh has withdrawn his resignation after receiving assurances of accommodation, the ceasefire is likely to have a short life.

The BJP is likely to make a renewed attempt to pull down the state government if Narendra Modi returns to power at the Centre in the summer.

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