'My govt will last its full term': Himachal CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu

The real reason for dissent is rebels personal aspirations and motives, he says

PTI03_04_2024_000091A PTI

Interview/ Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, chief minister, Himachal Pradesh

Fourteen months into his first stint as chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu is fighting to save his government following an embarrassing defeat of his party's candidate in the recent Rajya Sabha elections. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Sukhu insists that his government has the majority and will last its full term.

The MLAs defied the party whip. They were absent when cut motions and demands were put to vote in the assembly. Theirs is a fit case for disqualification.

Sukhu says while there were indications about a few MLAs being unhappy, the cross-voting by six legislators in the Rajya Sabha elections was unexpected. Responding to calls for his replacement, he says 90 per cent of the MLAs support him; he says that those claiming to be dissatisfied with his style of functioning were actually looking to fulfil their personal aspirations.

Sukhu, however, says that the doors are open for the six rebel MLAs to return. Excerpts:

Q/ How safe is the Congress government in Himachal Pradesh?

A/ The Himachal Pradesh government is completely safe. We have majority. I am confident that the government will last its full five-year term. The BJP is trying to foment trouble, like it has done in other states, but we will not allow the BJP's ill-intentioned moves to succeed in Himachal Pradesh.

Q/ Were you taken by surprise that six of your MLAs indulged in cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha elections?

A/ The cross-voting was indeed a jolt to us. It is our failure that we could not get Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is a leading advocate, elected to the Rajya Sabha. The cross-voting was completely unexpected. We knew that there was some angst in certain quarters, but we did not expect the MLAs to cross-vote and harm the interests of their own party.

Q/ What went wrong? What was the reason behind the MLAs rebelling on such a crucial occasion?

A/ There was a vacant ministerial berth. And there were two or three aspirants for the post. We did want to fill up the vacancy. To express one's angst in this manner (cross-voting) is not in keeping with Himachali culture. Such a thing has never happened before in the state. The BJP tried to fish in troubled waters, and is clearly behind the conspiracy to try and destabilise the government. But they could not be successful.

Q/ Was the fact that Singhvi is not a Himachali a factor?

A/ Of course not. The sentiment that someone from the state should be nominated was naturally there. But the decision had to be made by the All India Congress Committee. And when the decision was made by the AICC, we accepted that.

Q/ Could the Rajya Sabha poll debacle have been averted?

A/ It could have been avoided if better sense had prevailed on those who went against their own party in a bid to fulfil their individual aspirations. We were aware that a few MLAs were unhappy, especially two of the six who wanted to become ministers. We saw their critical comments on social media. But for the MLAs to choose the occasion of the Rajya Sabha elections to express their angst is deplorable. I have accepted that it is my failure, my government's failure and an intelligence failure that we could not avert the debacle.

Q/ Would efforts be made to bring the six rebel MLAs back on board?

A/ Our doors are open. There is a saying, 'Subah ka bhula agar shaam ko wapas aa jaye to usse bhula nahi kehte' (When someone has erred and realises the mistake, that person must be forgiven and welcomed back).

Q/ Was the rivalry between you and state Congress president Pratibha Singh a factor in the recent developments?

A/ I do not have any rivalry with anyone. I have a job to do, which is to fulfil the mandate given to us by the people of the state. It is to make the state economically self-reliant. In a democracy, it is the people who decide. I want to take everyone along. I respect everyone.

Q/ Certain quarters in the state Congress want you to be replaced. Your style of functioning has been criticised and it is being said that you could not take everyone together.

A/ More than 90 per cent of the MLAs have no such issues. To say there is something wrong with my style of functioning is just an excuse. The real reason is their own individual aspirations and motives. The party high command has acted against the six MLAs who cross-voted and it is clear who the party is with.

Q/ The disqualified MLAs have moved court.

A/ The MLAs defied the party whip. They were absent when cut motions and demands were put to vote in the assembly. Theirs is a fit case for disqualification for having defied the party whip. It is important to note that even if their disqualification is overturned, they continue to be Congress MLAs.