29 Feb 2024

Can Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu Rescue Congress Govt from Political Turmoil in Himachal?

The Congress government in Himachal Pradesh faces a political crisis following cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha seat elections. Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu has said disqualification action would be taken against the MLAs who switched sides, expressing confidence in the government's ability to endure for five years.

Observers DK Shivkumar, Bhupendra Baghel, and Bhupendra Singh Hooda have arrived in Shimla to engage with Congress MLAs and address their concerns. Simultaneously, six rebel Congress MLAs, now aligning with the BJP, declared their allegiance during a media interaction.

Beyond the political dynamics, the fate of the state's politics and the survival of the Congress government are influenced by factors such as the anti-defection law. Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, rising from the ranks of NSUI and Youth Congress, is considered to be an opponent of senior leader late Virbhadra Singh, who held the Chief Minister position six times.

Sukhu, hailing from a modest background as the son of a bus driver, stirred discomfort among some Congress leaders in Himachal Pradesh since assuming the role of Chief Minister. Analysts attribute the current political upheaval in the mountainous state to the internal power struggles within the Congress party.

Party high command chose to downplay

The growing discontent among Congress MLAs who felt neglected was apparent,but the party high command chose to downplay. However, this nonchalant attitude proved to be a costly mistake for the ruling Congress. In response, six out of 40 MLAs rebelled, and three independent members, who were previously aligned with them, also withdrew their support. Despite having 25 MLAs, BJP's Harsh Mahajan secured a seat in the Rajya Sabha.

The strict administrative approach of Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu might be a contributing factor to the current political crisis. He took it upon himself to make every small and big decision concerning the government, leaving ministers and MLAs feeling unheard.

Upon the government's formation in December 2022, several party leaders sensed a growing sense of neglect. As time progressed, discontent among leaders became evident due to Sukhu's working style, leading to open rebellion by numerous MLAs.

Cong MLAs had raised concerns about their perceived neglect

From the outset, certain leaders felt marginalized, including former cabinet minister Sudhir Sharma. Rajendra Rana, who defeated former CM Premkumar Dhumal, also found himself on the fringes. Various Congress MLAs raised concerns about their perceived neglect on different platforms. Notably, Sudhir and Rana publicly declared their discontent.

State President Rani Pratibha Singh echoed the sentiments of this discontent on multiple occasions. Many leaders expressed regret over their opinions being disregarded, despite vocalizing their concerns across various forums.

Vikramaditya Singh, the son of Virbhadra Singh, also tendered his resignation. Following his resignation, he openly expressed his dissatisfaction, alleging neglect and deliberate political marginalization.

Relief for Sukhu

However, Vikramaditya Singh has said that he will not press for his resignation. he said this after meeting party observers sent by high command to defuse the crisis, providing relief to embattled CM Sukhu.

Over the past five years, the Congress party has faced defeats in several states, with the BJP seizing power in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra by overthrowing Congress-led governments.

In Himachal Pradesh, despite Congress securing a clear majority in the elections, the party is grappling with a crisis. Six Congress MLAs have defected, and according to the anti-defection law, at least one-third of the members need to defect to join another party. Breaking the Congress in Himachal would require a minimum of 14 MLAs.

Despite the legal constraints, MLAs have switched sides leading to the fall of governments.

Congress itself may be at fault: Analysts 

Congress has accused the BJP of manipulating public sentiment, but analysts suggest that Congress itself may be at fault in this regard.

Commentators argue that the BJP didn't need to make significant efforts, as the underlying issues seem to stem from within the Congress. The BJP has now entered the fray, and they are unlikely to remain passive. There will likely be some political maneuvers in the days to come. The BJP currently has 25 MLAs and requires ten more to tip the balance. The political landscape in Himachal Pradesh may witness significant shifts in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the six Himachal Pradesh Congress MLAs, who cross-voted for BJP candidate Harsh Mahajan during the Rajya Sabha elections on Tuesday, were flown back to Panchkula after they appeared for hearing on a petition on the anti-defection law before Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania.

These MLAs, namely Rajinder Rana, Sudhir Sharma, Ravi Thakur, Inder Dutt lakhanpal, Chetanya Sharma and Divender Kumar (Bhutto), who had left for Panchkula after voting on Tuesday, had returned to Shimla on Wednesday morning and left before the central Congress observers reached Shimla.

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