The arrest of a Congress MLA in Himachal Pradesh in connection with the alleged murder of his "girlfriend", has pushed a divided ruling party to depend on three Independent MLAs for smooth sailing for the next five years. The Congress won 36 out of HP's 68 seats, as against 26 of the main Opposition BJP. 34 is the halfway mark. The Speaker, Brij Bihari Lal Butail can vote only in the case of a tie, and the murder accused, Ram Kumar Chaudhary, 43, has been suspended from the party.
The situation has also posed a challenge for Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh to strike a balance between the ambitions and aspirations of different factions within the Congress, his own flock and Independents.
The Congress itself realised the danger in the numbers and accommodated all factions while making Butail the Speaker and Sukhwinder Sukhu, the working president of the Pradesh Congress Committee, apart from accommodating former PCC chiefs Vidya Stokes and Kaul Singh in the ministry.
Sukhu, however, has put up a brave face saying, "Three Independent members have become associate members of the ruling dispensation, so stability is not a concern for the entire term."
The Leader of the Opposition, Prem Kumar Dhumal of the BJP, however, does not foresee a smooth sailing for the government, saying, "The government will be pulled in different directions due to different pressure groups within the ruling dispensation."
The Congress is also banking on Dhumal's bête noire MLA and former Kullu scion Maheshwar Singh, who has offered to extend support on issue to issue basis. Maheshwar Singh told The Sunday Guardian, "I will build my Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) and the support will be issue-based."
While the murder accused Ram Kumar Chaudhary is planning to move the court for allowing him to take oath in the next few days, Butail said "as of now Chaudhary is not even a member of the Assembly" but kept silent on if he would be a member of the Congress after his suspension from the party or he will be an unattached member. The lawyer of the accused MLA, Sukhija claimed he will be a member of the Congress party and the clauses of disqualification will not affect Chaudhary's membership of the Assembly.