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Rajya Sabha polls: Big upset for Congress as BJP’s Harsh Mahajan defeats Abhishek Manu Singhvi amid cross-voting

SHIMLA: In a stunning upset for the ruling Congress in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP on Tuesday won the state’s lone Rajya Sabha seat with its candidate Harsh Mahajan defeating Congress stalwart Abhishek Manu Singhvi and apparently setting the stage for a no-trust motion in the assembly.

The voting was a tie with both the Congress and the BJP candidates getting 34 votes, indicating that at least six Congress MLAs voted against the party. The result was then declared on the basis of a draw of lots, officials said.

In the 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly, the Congress has 40 MLAs while the BJP has 25 legislators. The remaining three seats are held by independents.

Even before the result was formally declared, the buzz over the BJP bringing a motion of no confidence against the Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu’s 14-month-old government intensified.

Nearly three hours after the polling – in which the Congress deployed a helicopter to fly an MLA into Shimla so that he could vote – Sukhu alleged that “five to six” Congress and independent MLAs had been “abducted” by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Haryana Police.

A video clip that appeared online purportedly showed some Himachal MLAs in about five cars outside a government guesthouse in BJP-ruled Haryana’s Panchkula – a familiar “resort politics” scene when a political party sequesters MLAs to prevent them from voting for the other side.

Later, Congress MLA Ravi Thakur dismissed Sukhu’s claims that some party legislators were ”kidnapped” and said he ”can go anywhere” while referring to his visit to Panchkula.

Along with Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh was among the three states where a keen contest was expected.

Meanwhile, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said they would challenge the election in Himachal as both the candidates got 34 votes each and the decision was taken on the basis of a lottery.

”If the government breaks an elected government, what democracy is it. It has happened earlier in Karnataka, Manipur, Goa. When they do not get elected, they take measures, intimidate them and break the government. Is this democracy?” Kharge asked at a summit in Delhi hosted by the TV9 Network.

The Congress candidate’s defeat is likely to increase trouble of the Sukhu government as the annual budget for 2024-25 is to be passed in the state assembly on February 29 and proving his majority in the House would be a big challenge for him.

Leader of Opposition Jai Ram Thakur and Himachal BJP chief Rajiv Bindal have demanded resignation of the CM following the Singhvi’s defeat.

The Rajya Sabha poll result was announced by a draw of lots in which the candidate whose name is taken out loses, as per the norms of the Election Commission.

Later, during a press conference, Singhvi said that normally, in the draw of lots, the name which is taken out wins. ”But under the strange rule of Election Commission which I came to know today, the name of the candidate taken out, which was me, loses,” he said. Singhvi criticised the BJP for introducing a ”new culture” in politics and said the fact that the saffron party fielded a nominee against a party that has 40 members compared to its 25 clearly shows that it wants to win elections by hook or crook and more by crook.

Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, speaking at the News9 Global Summit in New Delhi, said the Congress is falling apart and has no knowledge where its MLAs are heading and whom they are voting for.

Asked about Chief Minister Sukhu’s allegations that some Congress MLAs were kidnapped, Shah questioned how was that possible as the election was held inside the assembly premises.

Earlier, high drama unfolded in Shimla with both the ruling Congress and opposition BJP accusing each other of violations and malpractices.

Talking to reporters here, Sukhu said the BJP is indulging in hooliganism which is not good for democracy and that people of the state will never accept it.

Leader of the Opposition Thakur said that the CM’s helicopter was sent to bring Congress MLA from Chintpurni Sudarshan Babloo from Hoshiyarpur in Punjab which is violation of model code of conduct and therefore his vote should not be counted.

The polling for the Rajya Sabha seat started at 9 am. Independent MLA from Hamirpur Ashish was first to cast his vote while the last vote was cast by Congress MLA Babloo.

After casting his vote, Chief Minister Sukhu said the MLAs have voted as per the ideology of the party.

”We have 40 MLAs in the state assembly, and unless MLAs are bought off, we will get all the votes,” he said. BJP leader Thakur had earlier said that ”we have fielded the candidate gauging the situation and hope that all MLAs would exercise their conscious vote”.

Mahajan had also indicated that the body language of the Congress leaders was not corroborating their claims that all 40 party MLAs would vote for Singhvi.

HPCC president Pratibha Singh’s remarks that several MLAs were unhappy and senior party leader Rajinder Rana should have been accommodated in the Sukhu ministry fuelled the speculations of cross-voting.

Mahajan, a three-time MLA and former minister, had resigned from the Congress in September 2022 ahead of the assembly polls and joined the BJP.

The Congress had issued a whip to its MLAs to vote for Singhvi following which the BJP had accused the ruling party of issuing whip to their members to put pressure on them and maintained that the MLAs had the right to vote as per their wish.

Mahajan sent a complaint to the chief election commissioner drawing his attention to the three-line whip issued by the Congress to vote for the party candidate.

In his complaint, Mahajan said that such a whip was not only unethical but also against the conducting of elections to the Rajya Sabha as it would affect the decision making ability of the MLAs.

Source: Press Trust of India

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