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Himachal Political crisis: Minister Vikramaditya Singh resigns from Sukhu cabinet

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SHIMLA/NEW DELHI: The Congress on Wednesday scrambled to save its government in Himachal Pradesh, amid dramatic developments that included the resignation of high-profile minister Vikramaditya Singh and the suspension of 15 BJP MLAs by the Speaker.

The crisis was triggered by Tuesday’s cross-voting by six Congress MLAs in the Rajya Sabha election for the lone seat from Himachal Pradesh.

The suspended BJP MLAs, which included the leader of the opposition Jai Ram Thakur, stayed put in the House for a long time — in an apparent bid to stop the House from passing Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu government’s Budget through voice vote.

The BJP wanted voting on the Budget, which they felt would reveal that the Congress has lost its majority in the state assembly.

But in the afternoon, the crisis was staved off for now as the Finance Bill was passed by voice vote with no Bharatiya Janata Party member being present. Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania then adjourned the House sine die.

Congress stalwart Abhishek Manu Singhvi was defeated by BJP’s Harsh Mahajan Tuesday through a draw of lots, after the two candidates bagged 34 votes each.

The result meant that the Congress which had stormed into power in the state just 14 months back, winning 40 seats in the assembly, had failed to reach the halfway mark. The Budget was still pending in the House and the possibility of the opposition BJP bringing a no-confidence motion then loomed.

The BJP won 25 seats in the House of 68 in 2022. There are three independent MLAs, which were believed to be with the ruling Congress till the cross-voting crisis erupted.

Leader of Opposition Jai Ram Thakur took a delegation to Raj Bhavan around 7.30 am Wednesday, asking Governor Shiv Pratap Shukla to ensure that the Finance Bill was passed only through a division.

In Delhi, the Congress mounted a damage control exercise to stop the possible loss of a party-ruled state just weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge despatched three observers — Bhupesh Baghel, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and D K Shivakumar — to Shimla, and the party indicated that it could take some “tough steps”.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said Kharge has asked the observers and AICC in-charge for the state Rajeev Shukla to speak to all MLAs, including those who are disgruntled, and submit a comprehensive report to him soon.

“The Congress will not hesitate to take some tough steps as the party is our priority and will not let the people’s mandate be betrayed in Himachal Pradesh,” Ramesh told reporters in Delhi.

Earlier in the morning, Himachal Pradesh Public Works Minister Vikramaditya Singh quit the council of ministers, sending his resignation letter to the chief ministers and the Governor.

Singh, whose mother is Himachal Congress president Pratibha Singh, said, “There have been attempts to humiliate and undermine me from some quarters and in spite of reservations, I supported the government.” He is the son of Virbhadra Singh, a former chief minister who died in 2021.

The family has in the past thrown hints that Virbhadra Singh’s legacy has not been honoured by the party. Pratibha Singh has also expressed disgruntlement with the manner in which Sukhu has run the state.

Vikramaditya Singh said the 2022 Congress campaign was run in his father’s name. “There was no poster, or hoarding or banner which did not carry his picture,” he said.

But after the victory when the matter of putting up his statue came up, the government failed to decide the location. “It is not a political but an emotional thing for a son,” he said.

“The Congress party had made promises to the people and we owe the responsibility to fulfil those promises and I would decide my future course of action after consulting my supporters,” he added.

In the assembly, there was chaos when the House met in the morning with passing the Budget on its list of business for the day. Speaker Pathania suspended 15 BJP MLAs, including Jai Ram Thakur.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Harshwardhan Chauhan moved the motion, seeking their suspension for allegedly disrespecting the Speaker. The motion was adopted by voice vote.

The BJP members, however, refused to leave. The Speaker then adjourned the House till 12 pm.

Apart from Thakur, the suspended MLAs are Vipin Parmar, Vinod Kumar, Hans Raj, Janak Raj, Balbir Verma, Trilok Jamwal, Deep Raj, Surinder Shouri, Puran Thakur, Inder Singh Gandhi, Dilip Thakur, Randhir Sharma, Lokender Kumar and Ranvir Singh.

“We are apprehensive that Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania might suspend the BJP MLAs so that the Budget can be passed in the Vidhan Sabha,” Thakur had told reporters earlier.

He said the Rajya Sabha election had made it clear that the Congress government was in a minority and demanded the resignation of CM Sukhu.

A group of six Congress and three independent MLAs, who had spent Tuesday night at a guesthouse at Panchkula in BJP-run Haryana after voting against the Congress candidate, too were back in the House.

They were flown back on a helicopter.

As these MLAs entered the House, BJP members greeted them by thumping their desks. They also raised the slogan, “Jai Shri Ram, Ban Gaya Kaam”.

On Tuesday, Sukhu had claimed that the MLAs had been “abducted” by the Haryana Police and the CRPF. (PTI)

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