Himachal Pradesh crisis: Former minister, ex-chairman of ST panel among rebels | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Himachal Pradesh crisis: Former minister, ex-chairman of ST panel among rebels

Feb 29, 2024 04:42 AM IST

The result has highlighted the discontent within the Congress, something that party insiders say has been brewing for months

The shocking loss for the Congress in the Rajya Sabha poll in Himachal Pradesh following cross-voting by a section of its rebel legislators has not only put the Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu-led government in a precarious situation but also pointed to the party leadership’s sluggishness in bringing order to its disarrayed unit in the Himalayan state.

Security personnel outside the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly, in Shimla, on Wednesday.(PTI)
Security personnel outside the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly, in Shimla, on Wednesday.(PTI)

In a massive blow to the Congress, the cross-voting by six of its 40 legislators as well as three independent MLAs, who previously backed the Sukhu government, left both ruling party’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi and BJP nominee Harsh Mahajan tied on 34 votes each on Tuesday. The tie was then resolved by a draw-of-lots, which favoured Mahajan.

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The result has highlighted the discontent within the Congress, something that party insiders say has been brewing for months, ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha polls in Himachal Pradesh, the only Congress-ruled state in north India.

Also Read | Himachal crisis: Sukhvinder Singh Sukhua claims Congress govt is 'safe'

The rebel group was led by Rajinder Rana, the three-term legislator from Sujanpur in Sukhu’s home district of Hamirpur, and Sudhir Sharma, who has been a legislator from Dharamshala for four terms. Others who followed them in cross-voting against party nominee in the Rajya Sabha poll are Barsar MLA Inder Dutt Lakhanpal, Ravi Thakur (Lahaul-Spiti), Chaitanya Sharma (Gagret) and Kutlehar MLA Davinder Kumar (Bhutto).

Besides the six Congress rebels, three independent legislators — Ashish Sharma (Hamirpur), Hoshyar Singh (Dehra) and KL Thakur (Nalagarh) — also voted for the BJP candidate despite having backed the Sukhu government in the past.

Rana, who was eyeing a cabinet berth after the Congress won the 2022 assembly elections bagging 40 of the state’s 68 seats, was disappointed at not being included in the Sukhu-led council of ministers. Rana, who joined the Congress in 2014 having won the 2012 assembly polls as an independent candidate, has been vocal in his criticism of the state leadership.

Also Read | BJP wants to 'crush' people's mandate in Himachal, says Priyanka Gandhi

Sudhir Sharma, who previously served as the state’s urban development minister in the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government, was also feeling sidelined by the party high command after not getting a cabinet berth in the incumbent government. He was hopeful of finding a place in the cabinet from Kangra district, the epicenter of the state politics. Recently, he had voiced concerns regarding the state’s finances and also abstained from attending the annual plan meeting.

Davinder Bhutto, the first-time Congress MLA from Kutlehar, had aired his grievances over his constituency being discriminated by the Sukhu government. Bhutto, who joined the Congress in 2013 after quitting the BJP, also served as the secretary of HP Congress Committee from 2021 to 2022.

Lakhanpal, a three-term MLA from Barsar, was also among those who were eyeing a ministerial portfolio in the incumbent government but did not get one. Earlier, he had served as a councilor in Shimla Municipal Corporation from 1997 to 2002.

Chaitanya Sharma, who represents the Gagret assembly seat, has been criticizing the state government over lack of work in his constituency. Son of former Uttarakhand chief secretary Rakesh Sharma, the Congress MLA has a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from the George Washington University in the US and LLB from Campus Law Centre.

Ravi Thakur, a two-term Congress MLA from Lahaul-Spiti, also accused the Sukhu government of ignoring his constituency. “Anger is growing among public against the state government,” Thakur had said in a public address last year. Thakur, who has previously helmed the position of the chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes from between 2013 and 2016, also slammed the Sukhu government over its failure to fill three vacant posts in tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti.

Ashish Sharma, who represents Hamirpur as an independent MLA, had approached both the BJP and the Congress for a ticket to contest the assembly polls in December 2022.

Hoshyar Singh is the only two-term independent legislator in the state assembly, representing Dehra since 2017. Though he had joined the BJP in the run-up to the 2022 assembly polls, he contested as independent after he was denied a ticket by the saffron party. He had also approached the Congress for a ticket.

KL Thakur, who represents Nalagarh as an independent MLA, was first elected to the assembly in 2012 on a BJP ticket. He, however, lost the 2017 polls and was denied the party ticket by the BJP in 2022, following which he contested as independent.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Dar Ovais is the Dharamshala-based correspondent in the Himachal Pradesh bureau of Hindustan Times. He covers politics, tourism, Tibetan affairs and environmental issues.

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