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Virbhadra Singh’s Son, Rebels Meet In Signs Congress’ Himachal Crisis Remains

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Virbhadra Singh's Son, Rebels Meet In Signs Congress' Himachal Crisis Remains

Himachal Pradesh Minister and Congress MLA Vikramaditya Singh (File).

New Delhi:

The Congress remains on alert in Himachal Pradesh – a state it almost lost after Tuesday’s Rajya Sabha election loss left its government on the brink of collapse – following reports that Vikramaditya Singh on Thursday night met six rebel MLAs whose cross-voting triggered this political storm.

Mr Singh – the son of six-time former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh – did not cross-vote but his emotional outburst on the day, in which he accused the Congress of disrespecting the memory of his father, was an added challenge for the party as it fought off rival Bharatiya Janata Party’s attacks.

Himachal’s Urban Development Minister is in Delhi for two days to meet the Union Road and Transport Ministry. Sources said he met the rebel MLAs – who this morning moved the Himachal Pradesh High Court against their disqualification – in Panchkula, which is in BJP-ruled Haryana.

He is likely to meet the MLAs – who have since moved to The Lalit in Chandigarh – again on Sunday, on his way back to Shimla, sources said.

Sources also said two other Himachal Pradesh Congress MLAs have also met the rebels.

Neither side has yet commented on the subject of these discussions.

Mr Singh’s mother, Pratibha Singh, the Congress’ state unit boss, told news agency ANI she has “no idea” of her son’s schedule. “He was here till last night. What he did after… I don’t know.”

Amid speculation the Singh family is biding time before it challenges the Congress’ chief ministerial pick, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, for control of the state government, Ms Singh also said she will meet the party’s behind-the-scenes boss – Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi – to “keep them informed”.

READ | “MLAs Are Upset, Natural…”: Himachal Congress Chief On Cross-Voting

“Definitely. They are our high command and we have to go and apprise them… that this is the situation now in Himachal Pradesh and (they can) tell us what to do,” she said.

Further comments by Ms Singh – including telling ANI “… it is true that the BJP’s (government) is working better than ours” – seem to suggest the Congress’ Himachal problems are not yet over.

The comments have been seen in the light of the general election due in a few months.

The hill state has been a bastion for the BJP since Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his party to power at the centre; there may be only four seats, but the BJP won all four in 2014 and 2019.

“From Day 1 I have been telling the Chief Minister that we can only face upcoming elections if he strengthens the organisation. This is a very tough situation for us… we can see a lot of difficulties on the ground (and) as per directions of PM Modi, BJP is going to do a lot of things,” she said.

“We are on weak footing… I have urged him again and again. This is a difficult time, but still we have to contest elections and win,” Ms Singh, who also showed sympathy for the cross-voting MLAs, said.

On Wednesday, as the Congress dealt with the challenge of cross-voting MLAs, Vikramaditya Singh had announced his resignation. He accused the Chief Minister of “negligence” towards his lawmakers and broke down as he accused the party of not allotting land for a statue of his father.

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

“In the past year, I have not said a word on this government but it is my responsibility to speak out now…” he declared. Hours later he backtracked, but underlined his ambivalent stance as he did so.

That same day the Congress pulled off a last-gasp maneuver to save itself, expelling 15 BJP MLAs to bring down the effective strength of the House and pass the state budget.

READ | Congress Buys Time In Himachal? Budget Passed Amid Coup Fears

The Assembly session was then adjourned, buying the party at least till after the general election.

The BJP must also now contest the expulsion of its MLAs – including former Chief Minister Jairam Thakur – before it can mount another attack on its rival.

For its part, the Congress has declared itself ‘safe’ for now after its top troubleshooter, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, was rushed in.

READ | “All Is Well”: DK Shivakumar On Crisis In Congress’s Himachal Unit

He met both Vikramaditya Singh and Pratibha Singh in Shimla Thursday evening, after which he told reporters, “All is well. This government will stay for five years. All issues have been sorted out…”

The crisis exploded after the six rebels, and three independents who had professed their support, voted for the BJP’s candidate in this week’s Rajya Sabha election, and were then taken by the party.

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