Congress Buys Time In Himachal? State Budget Passed Amid Coup Fears

Expelling 15 BJP MLAs was also a pre-emptive strike on its plan to force the Congress into a floor test, since removing them from the 68-member House drops the majority mark to just 27.

Congress Buys Time In Himachal? State Budget Passed Amid Coup Fears

Under-fire Himachal Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu in the state Assembly (File).

New Delhi:

The Congress began Wednesday with its government in Himachal Pradesh - one of only three states it controls on its own - teetering on the edge, thanks to a shock (although not entirely unpredictable) defeat in yesterday's Rajya Sabha election that, it was claimed, had eroded its House majority.

The Congress finished Wednesday with an unlikely stay of execution; it retains power for now, at least till after the general election which will span two-three months - thanks to the strategic expulsion today of 15 MLAs from the opposition BJP, including LoP Jairam Thakur, and passing of the state budget.

The 15 were expelled immediately after the Assembly's budget session began, ostensibly for sloganeering and misconduct, including rushing into the Speaker's chambers, charges for which the BJP, in power at the centre, has regularly expelled or suspended opposition parliamentarians.

"The BJP members were not in their seats... they raised slogans and were trying to create an atmosphere where they could attack me. I asked them to sit but they didn't listen," the Speaker said.

How did expelling 15 rival lawmakers help the Congress?

It handed the beleaguered ruling party a working majority in the Assembly and allowed it to pass the state budget without contest, since the BJP's 10 remaining MLAs walked out in protest.

"The budget was passed today, and the conspiracy to topple our government has been foiled. Our government will complete five years..." a grim-faced Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu said.

By passing the budget, the Chief Minister has protected his government from any immediate test, particularly since the BJP must now file a legal challenge to counter Speaker Kuldeep Pathania's expulsion of its lawmakers, and that, one can be sure, will be drawn out by the Congress.

Mr Sukhu also underlined his determination to ride out this turbulence.

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"Neither (has) anyone asked for my resignation nor have I presented my resignation to anyone. We will prove our majority. We will win..." he said, accusing the BJP of "spreading rumours" to break the party.

The passing of the budget sans opposition as a tactical move was underlined by Mr Thakur.

"BJP has 25 MLAs. That number increased to 34 after Rajya Sabha voting (Mr Thakur here counts on the six Congress MLAs who have yet to officially join the BJP and three independent lawmakers). This created a danger. They had to pass the budget somehow, or the government would fall," he said.

READ | Congress Has "Lost Majority" In Himachal: Jairam Thakur

"For this, they had to decrease the number of BJP MLAs. 15, including me, have been suspended. We were suspended to save the Congress government. After our suspension, they passed the budget."

Expelling the BJP MLAs was also a pre-emptive strike on its plan to force the Congress into a floor test. Removing 15 lawmakers from the 68-member House drops the majority mark to just 27.

NDTV Explains | Congress Or BJP? Who Has Edge In Himachal Pradesh?

The Congress, even after the likely loss of six MLAs - those who cross-voted in Tuesday's Rajya Sabha election, triggering all of this furore - would have had enough to sail through a no-trust motion.

The party won 40 seats in the 2022 election.

That, of course, was assuming it does not lose any more of its strength.

In any event, that possibility was never put to a test, since the uncharacteristically decisive move by the Congress' state unit caught the BJP by surprise, and allowed it to buy crucial time to regroup.

The party has responded by rushing three senior leaders - Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar and its former Haryana and Chhattisgarh Chief Ministers, Bhupinder Hooda and Bhupesh Baghel - to defuse the situation.

The priority, senior leader Jairam Ramesh said, is to ensure the party's government remains intact. 

With input from agencies

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