Voters first, then party: Himachal Congress ex-MLAs contesting Assembly bypolls on BJP ticket

PTI, May 27, 2024, 9:32 AM IST

Six former MLAs, disqualified by the Assembly, joining the BJP on March 23, 2024. (Credits: ANI)

Shimla: Facing a barrage of criticism, dubbed ”bike hue (sold out) mafia” by Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, the six disqualified Congress MLAs contesting the assembly bypolls on a BJP ticket have resolved to fight fire with fire.

Not apologetic and in a mood to retaliate, they say it is the public who voted for them that comes first and not the party they belong to. Rajinder Rana (Sujanpur), Sudhir Sharma (Dharamshala), Ravi Thakur (Lahaul & Spiti), Inder Dutt Lakhanpal (Barsar), Chaitanya Sharma (Gagret) and Devinder Kumar Bhutto (Kutlehar), along with three Independent lawmakers, voted for Harsh Mahajan — the BJP’s nominee in the Rajya Sabha election on February 27.

Two days later, the six Congress MLAs were disqualified from the assembly for defying a party whip to be present in the House and vote in favour of the government. They later joined the BJP and were fielded from their respective constituencies on a saffron party ticket.

Ever since the cross-voting incident, the former Congress lawmakers have faced a barrage of criticism from Sukhu — from being called ”kale naag (black snakes)” who tried to destabilise the Congress to allegations that they were hungry for ”briefcases” and not ”samman (respect)”. Sukhu has also alleged that the six rebels got Rs 15 crore each for selling their votes.

The former lawmakers, however, remain defiant.

”The voters who elected us come first and then the party. The chief minister should take action if he has any evidence rather than misleading the people by making uncalled-for remarks,” they told PTI.

Police have registered a case against Ashish Sharma, the Independent MLA from Hamirpur, and Chaitanya Sharma’s father Rakesh Sharma over ”electoral offences” related to the Rajya Sabha polls on the complaint of two Congress legislators. This was followed by the rebels filing a defamation case against Sukhu, who they accused of making allegations without evidence.

As campaigning for the bypolls, to be held simultaneously with the state’s four Lok Sabha seats, on June 1 draws to a close, the war of words has become even sharper.

The six rebels told PTI that meeting their electorates’ aspirations is their priority.

”The public voted for us and it is our responsibility to fulfil their expectations, regardless of whether we are in the BJP, Congress or Independent. The women and youth are asking us for the (promised) Rs 1,500 per month and one lakh jobs but we have no answer,” says Chaitanya Sharma.

The former Congress lawmaker from Gagret, where he is now a BJP candidate, claimed health and education centres were downgraded in his constituency and MLA Local Area Development Funds stopped for six months.

”Now the chief minister is seeking vengeance as he has no achievement to show,” he says.

Bhutto, contesting again from Kutlehar, advised the chief minister to take action if he has evidence instead of making false allegations to mislead the public. ”The Congress government will fall the same way it lost the Rajya Sabha election despite being in majority,” he asserted.

Thakur, the Lahaul & Spiti candidate, claimed false cases are being registered against the MLAs who left the Congress.

He also attacked Sukhu, saying the state’s Congress government has taken loans of Rs 18,000 crore since assuming power in November 2022 and alleged that even party MLAs are not aware where the funds are going.

Sudhir Sharma, another rebel, says, ”It was the chief minister’s arrogance and discrimination against our assembly segments that led to the rebellion.” He claimed there would have been more rebels had there been a secret ballot in the Rajya Sabha polls.

Rana, the BJP candidate from Sujanpur, claimed that Sukhu works with a ”negative mindset”.

”Former chief ministers Shanta Kumar was known for water, Prem Kumar Dhumal for roads, Virbhadra Singh for overall development, Jai Ram Thakur for his decency. Sukhu will be known for his lies, loans and closure of institutions,” he said.

Lakhanpal, the BJP’s Barsar candidate, also slammed Sukhu over the de-notification and downgrading of institutions.

”The chief minister has lost his mind and is making false allegations to hide his failure. Not a single development work has been undertaken in my constituency in 15 months,” he said.

The 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly currently has an effective strength of 62, following the disqualification of the six MLAs. Hamirpur MLA Ashish Sharma and the other two Independent legislators, who voted for the BJP in the Rajya Sabha election, also resigned from the House and joined the saffron party but their resignations are yet to be accepted by the speaker.

The Congress has 34 members in the House while the BJP has 25 at present.

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