BJP legislators say they are boycotting the ongoing budget session of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly to protest against remark made by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. But is that the actual reason? The Congress believes it is a scheduled Feb 16 rally of BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi that is keeping the opposition lawmakers on their toes.
Modi is to address a rally Feb 16 in Sujanpur in Hamirpur district, some 200 km away from state capital Shimla, and the party's legislators are boycotting the ongoing budget session allegedly to prepare for the rally.
The ruling Congress is hopeful that the saffron brigade, the main opposition, will march back to the capital for the remaining session, once the clamour of Modi's rally, the first one since his name was cleared for the top post, dies down.
Hamirpur is the home constituency of sitting MP Anurag Thakur, who is a son of BJP leader and two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
The legislators boycotted five consecutive sittings of the house from Feb 7, the day state's budget was presented, till Feb 13 on the pretext of protesting against Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh's 'humiliating' remark. Earlier, they have been disrupting the house since the session began Feb 3.
The chief minister has stated in the assembly that the session was boycotted by the BJP for Modi's rally preparations. Denying that he ever made a statement to the media referring to the BJP legislators as "bonded labourers" to a senior party leader, Virbhadra Singh clarified in the assembly: "But it's my personal view that the BJP legislators are helpless."
The session adjourned Thursday and is scheduled to meet again Feb 17, a day after the rally.
The development is significant as attending the session by the BJP legislators would, on the face of it, validate the chief minister's stand that the session was boycotted not because of the a remark allegedly made by him but to gather support for the rally.
"We know that the BJP members are busy with preparations for Narendra Modi's rally, but we hope they will return to the house from Monday," Revenue Minister Kaul Singh said in the house Wednesday.
Refuting the opposition charge that the government has made no efforts to end the deadlock, Kaul Singh said: "We are again appealing to them to participate in the house proceedings. Opposition participation is must for proper debates and even the government gets encouragement to work on the issues raised by them."
Leader of Opposition Dhumal, however, blamed Virbhadra Singh and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Agnihotri for the stalemate.
Dhumal told reporters that the arrogant attitude and provocative language being used by the ruling party had resulted in the boycott.
Replying to the budget debate this week, Virbhadra Singh said: "It's for the first time that the opposition has not only interrupted the governor's address but also boycotted the budget speech and discussions."
The chief minister said this was against the tradition of democracy.
"I strongly condemn it. This reflects the shallowness and immaturity of the leadership, especially when leader of opposition (Dhumal) happens to be the former chief minister, " he said.
Without mincing words, the chief minister said it was a move to pressurise the government on the inquiries into acts of omission and commission and wrong doings in the previous BJP regime, those in the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) and other matters.
Interestingly, as the entire opposition was missing, the budget debate was initiated by Himachal Lokhit Party's lone legislator Maheshwar Singh, instead of the leader of the opposition.
BJP legislator Randhir Sharma told IANS that the decision to boycott the session was taken after the chief minister used unparliamentary words against Dhumal and the legislators.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)