Updated February 28th, 2024 at 14:53 IST

Behind The Scenes: What Went Wrong For Congress in Himachal | Explained

The Congress party which was earlier enjoying a comfortable majority with 40 seats in the 68-member Assembly, finds itself on shaky ground now.

Reported by: Digital Desk
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu | Image:PTI
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New Delhi: In a dramatic turn of events, the recent election to a single Rajya Sabha seat has altered the power arithmetic in Himachal Pradesh, leaving the Congress government on the brink. The grand old party which was earlier enjoying a comfortable majority with 40 seats in the 68-member Assembly, finds itself on shaky ground now. In an urgent attempt at damage control, the Congress has deployed 2 observers Bhupinder Hooda and DK Shivakumar to the hill state.  On the other hand, recent reports suggested that 14 Congress MLAs may submit their resignation to the governor later in the day amid reports that it might initiate a no-confidence motion against the 14-month-old Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu-led government. 

What Happened in Rajya Sabha Elections?

The BJP won the state’s lone Rajya Sabha seat with its candidate Harsh Mahajan defeating Congress stalwart Abhishek Manu Singhvi and apparently setting the stage for a no-trust motion in the assembly. The voting was a tie with both the Congress and the BJP candidates getting 34 votes, indicating that at least six Congress MLAs voted against the party. The result was then declared on the basis of a draw of lots.

Even before the result was formally declared, the buzz over the BJP bringing a motion of no confidence against Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu’s government intensified.

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Nearly three hours after the polling – in which the Congress deployed a helicopter to fly an MLA into Shimla so that he could vote – Sukhu alleged that “five to six” Congress and independent MLAs had been “abducted” by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Haryana Police.

A video clip that appeared online purportedly showed some Himachal MLAs in about five cars outside a government guesthouse in BJP-ruled Haryana’s Panchkula – a familiar “resort politics” scene when a political party sequesters MLAs to prevent them from voting for the other side.

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Later, Congress MLA Ravi Thakur dismissed Sukhu's claims that some party legislators were "kidnapped" and said he "can go anywhere" while referring to his visit to Panchkula.

BJP's Strategy to Field Ex-Congressman

In the Rajya Sabha elections, the BJP made a strategic move by nominating veteran politician and former Congress leader Harsh Mahajan. This decision forced a contest despite the odds, as the Congress nominated senior lawyer Abhishek Singhvi as its candidate for the Rajya Sabha seat.  Mahajan, a three-time MLA and former minister, had resigned from the Congress in September 2022 ahead of the assembly polls and joined the BJP.

BJP leader Jairam Thakur had earlier said, "We have fielded the candidate gauging the situation and hope that all MLAs would exercise their conscious vote".

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The party's candidate Mahajan had also indicated that the body language of the Congress leaders was not corroborating their claims that all 40 party MLAs would vote for Singhvi.

Pratibha Singh Claims MLAs Unhappy in Sukhu Ministry

For the past three months, Pratibha Singh, the Congress State President, has been openly addressing the rising discontent among MLAs within the party. This dissatisfaction primarily stems from veteran MLAs who were overlooked for ministerial positions, igniting a sense of rebellion among them Her remarks that several MLAs were unhappy and senior party leader Rajinder Rana should have been accommodated in the Sukhu ministry fuelled the speculations of cross-voting.  

The Congress had issued a whip to its MLAs to vote for Singhvi following which the BJP had accused the ruling party of issuing whip to their members to put pressure on them and maintained that the MLAs had the right to vote as per their wish.

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Mahajan sent a complaint to the chief election commissioner drawing his attention to the three-line whip issued by the Congress to vote for the party candidate.

In his complaint, Mahajan said that such a whip was not only unethical but also against the conducting of elections to the Rajya Sabha as it would affect the decision-making ability of the MLAs.

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How Numbers Stack Up in Himachal Assembly

In the 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly, the Congress has 40 MLAs while the BJP has 25 legislators.  The Congress also claimed the support of three independent MLAs, boosting its tally to 43. The majority mark is 35. 

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In the current scenario, the withdrawal of support from six Congress MLAs and three Independent legislators presents a looming threat to the stability of the Congress-led government in Himachal Pradesh. This hypothetical scenario would result in a stark reduction of the Congress's strength from 43 to 34 MLAs.   

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Published February 28th, 2024 at 14:20 IST