Congress Or BJP? Who Has Edge In Himachal Pradesh Numbers Game?

New Delhi:

The Congress is on the brink of losing Himachal Pradesh – one of the handful of states it rules on its own – less than two years after it wrested control from its eternal rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The trigger – a shock defeat in Tuesday’s Rajya Sabha election that seems to have left the Congress one seat short of the majority mark of 35 in the state Assembly. Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu will, in all likelihood, be forced to take a floor test this week – one he will certainly lose.

So how do the numbers stack up? Not well for the Congress.

Assembly Numbers Before Rajya Sabha Poll Chaos

The Himachal Pradesh Assembly has 68 seats. The majority mark is 35.

In the 2022 election the Congress won 40 seats, giving it an outright win. Support from the three independent MLAs simply gave a lovely gloss to the final winning margin.

The BJP, which claimed 44 in the 2017 election, was pushed down to just 25.

Before the Rajya Sabha election, there was no doubt the Congress had a comfortable majority.

BJP MLAs Expelled Or Suspended?

Now, there is chaos and confusion, particularly after the Assembly Speaker this morning expelled 15 BJP MLAs for sloganeering and alleged misconduct.

READ | Himachal Speaker Expels 15 BJP MLAs Amid Crisis For Congress

There is confusion over a key technical point – were the BJP MLAs expelled or suspended?

If the former, then it brings the House strength down to 53, and the majority mark to 27.

In this case, the Congress should clear a trust vote quite comfortably, given it still has 34 MLAs on its side. The question, of course, is will all 34 still be there when the floor test comes calling.

However, if the BJP MLAs have only been suspended, the House strength remains at 68, and the majority mark at 35. This then means the Congress government will fall when tested.

Rajya Sabha Poll Chaos

The Congress went into yesterday’s election with no apparent knowledge of the tumultuous events to follow, although there were rumours aplenty of cross-voting in Himachal and Karnataka.

As the day wound down, those rumours turned into reality.

Rajya Sabha MPs are elected by the MLAs with 35 votes needed to secure one seat. The Congress, remember had 40 + 3, and should have had no problem winning this poll.

READ | Premonition, Betrayal, Hard Luck: How Congress Lost Himachal Plot

But then six Congress MLAs cross-voted, plumping for the BJP’s Harsh Mahajan (a former Congressman) over their party’s candidate – senior leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

The independents voted for Mr Mahajan too, despite professing support for the Congress, leaving the party with apparently only 34 MLAs in its camp.

The game suddenly changed and the rug was pulled out from under the ruling party’s feet.

With Mr Mahajan and Mr Singhvi tied at 34 votes apiece, a draw of lots settled the matter.

The Rajya Sabha election was, therefore, settled.

The Floor Test Demand

But the BJP was not done, pointing to the cross-voting MLAs – who were yesterday shipped off to Haryana, where the saffron party is in power – and claiming the Congress had lost its majority.

Senior BJP leader and former Chief Minister Jairam Thakur led the charge.

READ | Day After Rajya Sabha Stunner, BJP Seeks No-Trust Vote In Himachal

“We have pulled off a victory when our chances seemed very low… Harsh Mahajan won (and) currently, Congress has lost moral right to stay in power,” he declared.

The BJP, as it does when it scents blood, moved fast, and by the end of the day Mr Thakur had met Governor Shiv Pratap Shukla and demanded a floor test for Mr Sukhu’s government.

Congress’ Crumbling Government

Meanwhile, Vikramaditya Singh’s resignation has brought to the fore cracks in the party.

Mr Singh is the son of six-time former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, and the MLA from the Shimla Rural seat. He was not one of those who cross-voted yesterday, but today made his feelings clear, accusing the ruling party of disrespecting his late father’s memory after seeking votes in his name.

READ | “Didn’t Get Land For Father’s Statue”: Himachal Congress Leader

If the Congress does lose Himachal, it will underline the size of the challenge facing it and the INDIA opposition bloc – formed last year for the express purpose of defeating Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP, and led by the party – before a general election due in just a few weeks.

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