Both Cong and BJP grapple with internal strife in Himachal

While Congress deals with aftermath of rebellion of 6 party MLAs which resulted in the shock defeat of senior party leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi in RS election, the BJP faces backlash from aspirants after it rewarded the six Congress turncoats with tickets in assembly by-polls, writes Rajesh Moudgil

The political scenario in Himachal Pradesh has not seen a calm moment since the senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s humiliating defeat in Rajya Sabha election in February owing to the rebellion of six of the 40 party MLAs in the House of 68; and a daunting challenge still continues to stare at the ruling Congress as well as the opposition BJP to address their internal strife ahead of the upcoming polls in the hill state, writes Rajesh Moudgil

In February this year, a major political storm hit Himachal Pradesh and tremors caused by it were felt across the country – Congress’ Rajya Sabha nominee Abhishek Manu Singhvi lost to BJP’s Harsh Mahajan despite having a clear majority of chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu-led Congress government.

How? In the House of 68, Congress had 40 MLAs, the BJP 25 and there were three independent members. Six Congress and three independent MLAs cross-voted leading to an embarrassing defeat of Singhvi.

This was just the beginning of a turmoil waiting to further unfold.

Even though Sukhu government survived and even got its budget passed in the following days, his own Cabinet minister Vikramaditya Singh, 34, son of six-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh, led the rebellion resigning from the post stating the party legislators were being ignored.

He had the backing of his mother, state Congress chief and the sitting MP from Mandi seat, Pratibha Singh, the widow of party stalwart late Virbhadra Singh.

Vikramaditya further held that the legacy of his late father was also not given due respect. Daring the state leadership, he said that such humiliation would not be tolerated and now the party high command would decide where the state Congress was headed next.

The six Congress rebels who openly flayed Sukhu’s leadership were Sudhir Sharma, Rajender Rana, Inder Dutt Lakhanpal, Chaitanya Sharma, Devinder Kumar Bhutto and Ravi Thakur. They joined BJP subsequently after they were disqualified for flouting the party whip to support the party and its budget. Independent MLAs were Ashish Sharma, Hoshiyar Singh and K L Thakur who had later resigned.

Rana claimed that more legislators feeling suffocated in the ruling Congress would also be leaving the party. Stating that they were in touch with them, he held that they too would be joining BJP in coming days.

Sudhir Sharma also lashed out at Sukhu alleging that the party workers were feeling frustrated as they found it extremely difficult to meet the chief minister.

Even as the strife within lingered, the top national leaders Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra called and discussed various issues with Sukhu, deputy chief minister Mukesh Agnihotri and state party chief Pratibha Singh. The issues discussed concerned the elections to the four Lok Sabha seats as well as six assembly seats by-poll necessitated by the disqualification of the six party rebels.

Himachal Pradesh has four Lok Sabha seats – Mandi, Kangra, Hamirpur and Shimla and the six assembly segments which have simultaneous by-elections are – Dharamshala, Sujanpur, Barsar, Gagret, Kutlehar and Lahaul-Spiti. Polling to all these seats would be held along with the Lok Sabha election on June 1, the last phase of polls, and the vote would be counted on June 4.

After her return from Delhi, Pratibha Singh told newspersons that the message at the meeting to everyone was that the party should fight the upcoming polls unitedly sinking all differences. She further said that the Central leadership observed that Mandi was a high-stake seat hence the need to pick the right candidate – and many suggested Vikramaditya’s name. However the final call would be taken by the Central election committee, she added.

For record, the BJP has already announced to field actor Kangana Ranaut from the Mandi seat.

Sukhu told newspersons that the high command had sought his feedback on the political situation in the state and his government’s preparedness for the upcoming polls. He further said that Pratibha Singh was the state party chief and the elections would be contested under her leadership. He however, added that the party would give tickets keeping in mind winnability and clean image of the candidates.

The names of the probable candidates are likely to be shortlisted and submitted to the Central election committee around mid-April for its final call.


The saffron party, on the other hand, too has had its own set of problems. The BJP wasted no time to name the six Congress rebels as its candidates to the assembly bypolls – Sudhir Sharma was named from Dharamshala assembly constituency, Rajender Rana was named from Sujanpur, Inder Dutt Lakhanpal from Barsar, Chaitanya Sharma from Gagret, Devinder Kumar Bhutto from Kutlehar and Ravi Thakur was fielded from Lahaul-Spiti.

They had switched over to BJP from Congress and were disqualified from the House for defying a party whip to be present and vote in favour of Congress-led government during cut motions and budget.

The BJP’s decision to give them tickets for the seats going to the by-poll triggered a rebellion in the saffron party.

Former minister and BJP leader from Lahaul-Spiti assembly seat Ram Lal Markanda resigned from the party against allotting the ticket to Thakur. Thakur had defeated Markanda in the last election by a margin of about 1,500 votes. As Markanda also decided to contest the by-poll, all the office-holders of the party block unit also resigned in his support.

There were also several BJP’s home-grown leaders who were upset over denial of tickets from the six seats for obvious reasons.

However, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal held that while the party leadership was trying to pacify the leaders anguished over the distribution of tickets, these leaders would return to party fold as BJP was cadre-based party. Meanwhile, senior party leaders including former chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, party chief Rajiv Bindal and by-poll candidates including Rana and Lakhanpal had visited Dhumal to seek his blessings.


There does not appear an immediate crisis for the Sukhu government even though the Congress’ strength has dropped to 33 (excluding Speaker who has a voting right in case of a tie in the House) from its earlier 40 – with the disqualification of six Congress rebels – and even though now the House strength too has come down to 62 members from the earlier 68. The Sukhu government does not have immediate reason to worry even if Congress does not win any of the six by-polls necessitated by the six rebels’ disqualification.

As regards the fate of the three independent MLAs, the Speaker has not taken any decision on the resignation tendered by them.

The Congress, but, might witness an adverse impact of the rebellion in the upcoming Lok Sabha election; Even though the Congress has declared only Vikramaditya’s candidature from Mandi seat against BJP’s Kangana Ranaut, a cine actor, it has yet to name its nomine from Shimla, Hamirpur and Dharamshala seats. Besides Kangana, BJP has fielded its sitting MPs – Anurag Thakur from Hamirpur, Suresh Kashyap from Shimla (SC) and Kishan Kapoor from Kangra seat. Anurag, a four-time MP, is son of Prem Kumar Dhumal, a two-time chief minister and a tall BJP leader from the area.