Storm in Himachal Congress has been brewing for a long time

Shimla: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ability to engineer defections in opposition parties, discontent among Congress MLAs, and the ambitions of family members of former chief minister late Virbhadra Singh — multiple factors have fuelled the Congress-led government’s crisis in Himachal Pradesh.

But the root cause of all this seems to have been Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu’s inability to communicate with his party colleagues and take them into confidence. So much so that out of nine MLAs — six from the Congress and three Independents — who voted for the BJP candidate in Rajya Sabha Polls, six are from Sukhu’s own Hamirpur parliamentary segment, giving an indication of his failure to bond with party colleagues.

As it is, the Congress-led government in the state is on shaky grounds with rebel MLAs reducing it to a minority in the 68-member Assembly. Given that only 34 MLAs — including the Speaker — voted for the party candidate in the Rajya Sabha biennial election Tuesday, the government will fall if it has to prove a majority today.

If there are any chances of the Congress surviving this crisis by mollifying rebels, Sukhu will have to go, multiple Congress leaders told ThePrint.

While the rebellion by six MLAs Tuesday triggered the crisis, it was deepened Wednesday by Vikramaditya Singh, son of late Virbhadra Singh, tendering his resignation from the state Cabinet. Vikramaditya was a chief ministerial aspirant who, along with his mother, Pratibha Singh, was left disappointed after the Gandhi family chose Sukhu, a Virbhadra Singh detractor, for the post.

Pratibha Singh with Vikramaditya Singh | Photo: ANI Photo/Jitender Gupta

Vikramaditya blamed Sukhu for the discontentment among the MLAs and party leaders. He said there were deliberate attempts to humiliate him and some MLAs time and again. He also accused the CM of sidelining and undermining him. Singh had raised this issue with the CM and the high command but Delhi placed its faith in Sukhu.

This discontentment within the party, though, is not new. It has been brewing for a long time and Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president Pratibha Singh has raised this issue with the high command time and again. Last year, she had raised the issue of lack of coordination between the government and the party with All India Congress Committee (AICC) President Mallikarjun Kharge.

Speaking to the media Tuesday, Pratibha said that resentment among MLAs is natural since there are some unresolved issues.

Speaking to ThePrint, a cabinet minister said, “We were not expecting this. We took the situation lightly.”

An MLA close to the CM told ThePrint, “Sukhu Bhai took the entire scene lightly. It seems he was not expecting a coup. Had he listened to even some of the demands of Pratibha Singh or Vikramaditya Singh, the situation could have been different. They were demanding to adjust their men. There are so many boards, corporations lying vacant where leaders could have been adjusted as chairmen or vice-chairmen,” he said. “The CM tried to do what Jai Ram Thakur did during his last tenure — decimate the political rival within the party. But he should have learnt from the assembly election results.”

Also read: Himachal Speaker ‘expels’ 15 BJP MLAs after the party seeks division of votes on budget

Who are the rebels?

Six Congress MLAs — Sudhir Sharma, Rajinder Rana, Chaitanya Sharma, Davinder Bhutto, I.D. Lakhanpal and Ravi Thakur — along with three Independents Ashish Kumar, K.L. Thakur and Hoshyar Singh voted for BJP’s Harsh Mahajan in the Rajya Sabha polls.

Of these, six are from the CM’s Lok Sabha constituency and home turf Hamirpur — Rajinder Rana (Sujanpur), I.D. Lakhanpal (Barsar), Davinder Bhutto (Kutlehar), Chaitanya Sharma (Gagret), Ashish Sharma (Hamirpur) and Hoshyar Singh (Dehra).

Sudhir Sharma, Rajinder Rana, Ravi Thakur, ID Lakhanpal are senior Congress legislators while Chaitanya Sharma and Devendra Bhutto are the first timers. Of the Independents, two-time legislator K.L. Thakur is a BJP rebel, while first-timer Ashish Sharma was a Congress hopeful.

Hoshyar has won independently twice. Former minister and third-time MLA Sudhir Sharma is the son of former minister and HPCC president late Sant Ram Sharma. Sudhir is considered close to the Holly Lodge (ancestral home of Virbhadra Singh’s family), as are Rana, Lakhanpal and Ravi Thakur. Sharma was Urban Development minister in Virbhadra Singh government from 2012-17 and expected the same in the current dispensation.

Rana, often referred to as the ‘giant killer’, had achieved a significant victory in 2017 when he defeated former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal from Sujanpur, marking a pivotal moment, reshaping the political landscape for the BJP in the region. Rana was once mentored by Dhumal himself but decided to switch allegiance to the Congress in 2014, opting to contest the Lok Sabha elections against Anurag Thakur.

Congress appointed Rana as working president of the party in 2022 along with Harsh Mahajan and Renuka MLA Vinay Kumar (who now is deputy speaker of the HP assembly). Soon after the Congress formed the government, Rana claimed his name had figured in the list of cabinet ministers approved by the high command. He failed to get a berth even in the second cabinet expansion in December last year.

Both Rana and Sudhir were vocal against the government’s work. Both have been raising the issues inside as well as outside the assembly, with Sharma blaming the state government for the delay in releasing funds to set up a central university in Dharamshala.

Ravi Thakur is a two-time MLA from Lahaul and Spiti. He was appointed as vice-chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) in 2013. In 2023, Thakur had voiced his unhappiness with the Sukhu-led government, calling him an “inexperienced CM”. He has been raising the issue of vacant posts and pending development work in Lahaul and Spiti district.

Three-time Congress MLA I.D. Lakhanpal was a Virbhadra supporter and expected a position in the Sukhu government, however, he was not vocal about this.

A senior Congress leader told ThePrint that Sukhu convinced the high command otherwise each time, saying that “Giving posts to Hamirpur MLAs like Lakhanpal or Rana was unnecessary since he was already a minister from the region and more would create an imbalance. How, the Sukhu government has three ministers from the Shimla district, one from Solan, and one from Sirmaur. Shimla parliamentary segment has five cabinet ministers. While Kangra parliamentary segment initially had one minister and a speaker and got another minister in last December, he said.

“Sukhu could not strike regional balance. He is yet to achieve a level of leadership within the Congress where he can take such decisions,” the leader added.

K.L. Thakur was in the BJP and had demanded a ticket from Nalagarh. When denied, he successfully contested independently. Hoshyar Chand was also expecting a ticket from the BJP from Dehra but had to contest independently. “They were supporting the Congress government but leadership failed to take them along,” he added.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: In Himachal, crisis for Congress deepens as party leader Vikramaditya Singh resigns from Cabinet



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