Why assembly bypolls for 6 Himachal Pradesh seats being held today are a high-stakes battle for BJP & Congress

  • The polls were necessitated after the disqualification of the six Congress Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) for defying a party whip in February this year landing Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu-led Congress government in Himachal Pradesh government in crisis.

Written By Gulam Jeelani
Updated1 Jun 2024
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu addresses the media after a meeting with Himachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania at the Vidhan Sabha
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu addresses the media after a meeting with Himachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania at the Vidhan Sabha(PTI)

The by-elections for six Assembly seats in Himachal Pradesh are being held today June 1, simultaneously with the polling for four Lok Sabha constituencies in the hill state.

The polls were necessitated after the six Congress Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) were disqualified for defying a party whip in February this year. The rebellion had landed chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu's Congress government in Himachal Pradesh in a crisis of sorts.

Why by-polls?

The constituencies where by-elections will be held include Lahul and Spiti, Dharamshala, Sujanpur, Barsar, Gagret, and Kutlehar.

On February 27, the six rebel Congress MLAs crossvoted for the BJP’s Harsh Mahajan in the Rajya Sabha elections. Congress party’s candidate, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, was defeated despite the grand old party having a full majority in the 68-member Himachal Assembly House.

Also Read: By-elections 2024: BJP announces candidates for polls; fields ex-Congress MLAs in Himachal, Gujarat. Full list here

After the rebellion by 6 Congress MLAs, the Opposition BJP called for Sukhu’s resignation. In the budget session held later, the 6 rebel MLAs skilled the voting and were later disqualified by assembly speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania.

Simultaneously with Lok Sabha polls.

Three months later, the Himachal Pradesh government is again in focus, with these six seats vacated after the switch by the rebel Congress MLAs going to by-polls on June 1. These by-elections have got the attention of top BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and Congress member of parliament Rahul Gandhi.

The BJP, which won all four parliamentary seats of Himachal Pradesh in 2014 and 2019, is also leaving no stone unturned for these six assembly seats.

Also Read: Congress in for a crucial test in Himachal, by-polls to six seats to be held on June 1

All six rebel Congress MLAs are in the fray again but on a BJP ticket inviting an attack by chief minister Sukhu, who has alleged that they accepted “crores” for selling their integrity. The six rebel leaders in the fray are Rajinder Rana, Sudhir Sharma, Devinder Kumar Bhutto, Chaitanya Sharma, Inder Dutt Lakhanpal and Ravi Thakur. 

“Our government survived despite them (the BJP) conspiring for a month. Those who went to the BJP have been labelled ‘sold-out MLAs’ by people. We won’t face any problem as we still have 34 MLAs, while they (the BJP) are only 25. Even if they win the six byelections, their strength will only be 31. The independent MLAs who are resigning should give in writing that they will not contest for the next three-and-a-half years,” Sukhu said in an interview with the Hindustan Times.

These six MLAs have accused the Chief Minister of ignoring them during portfolio distribution and promoting his friends instead. 

The High Stakes 

So, the by-polls to these six assembly seats have become high-stakes for Congress to save its government and for the BJP to try to get back to power in the assembly. The elections being held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha Elections 2024 have made the Congress vs. BJP fight even more interesting.

If the six Congress defectors win, the BJP’s number in the Himachal Pradesh assembly will increase to 31. However, this is still short of the majority mark of 35. 

In that scenario, the support of the three independent MLAs will take the BJP to 34 members at par with the Congress. That is precisely why these six seats matter. It can even turn the tables in the Himachal Pradesh assembly, depending on who wins how many of these six seats at stake.

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