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Posted at: Jul 7, 2018, 12:12 AM; last updated: Jul 7, 2018, 12:12 AM (IST)BEYOND THE NEWS

BJP’s Mayor, Deputy Mayor survive revolt

Intervention by party high command saves the day for them; Cong councillors in state of limbo
BJP’s Mayor, Deputy Mayor survive revolt
Councillors argue during the MC general house meeting at Bachat Bhawan in Shimla. Tribune photo

KS Tomar

Due to intervention of the BJP high command, the Mayor, Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC), Kusum Sadret and Deputy Mayor Rakesh Kumar Sharma have weathered a storm for the time being, which was the fallout of an open revolt by party councillors against them.

A “defective style” of the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor’s functioning has been cited as the primary reason of the disenchantment and anger of about 11 out of 17 councillors against them.

They had openly announced their decision to oust both leaders from their posts by moving a no-confidence motion against them during the general house meeting.

The BJP had created history in June 2017 when it won 17 out of 34 seats in the Shimla MC elections and captured power with the help of a Congress rebel, Rakesh Kumar Sharma, who was rewarded with the post of the Deputy Mayor.

But the BJP's celebrations were short-lived, as the new Mayor, Sadret, became controversial due to her “non- cooperation” and a “dictatorial attitude”, alleged by the majority of party councillors. The Mayor refused to mend her ways, which can be attributed to her inexperience also. The BJP councillors raised the banner of revolt against the Mayor who took it lightly. The party dissidents took the matter to the highest level in the government and the party organisation, but in vain. 

The Mayor dented the image of the BJP when she decided to go to China to participate in a conference while the water crisis had peaked in Shimla. It appears the state government took the issue lightly and gave her permission which was beyond the imagination of citizens of Shimla, who were reeling under the worst water-scarcity crisis.

The Mayor's absence added fuel to the fire and dissident councillors got an opportunity to demand her removal from the post.

The Mayor’s visit to China was seen as the height of insensitivity and neither the government nor the party could justify her decision to leave the local residents in lurch. 

Political analysts opine the controversy might haunt the BJP during the 2019 general elections. Second, Shimla is the nerve centre of political activities hence good or bad news travels fast to every part of the state and the Mayor will be personally responsible for this major embarrassment to the government and the organisation.

It is a paradox that the Congress is in complete disarray hence its councillors and senior leaders have failed to gain from the situation. Some Congress councillors raised their dissenting voice against the Mayor and staged a walk out during the recent general house meeting. But, unfortunately, the Congress councillors' organisation is in a state of limbo, which has given a big reprieve to the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor.

Union Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadha tried to convince the dissident councillors to bury the hatchet, which, he said, would be in the interest of the party. Nadha reportedly called all councillors to the BJP office in Shimla and emphasised the obligation of retaining all four Lok Sabha seats during the 2019 elections, which, he said, was the top priority of the party high command.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur also took pains to handle the crisis and his advisers unsuccessfully tried to settle the issue. Education Minister Suresh Bhardawaj and RSS leader Pawan Rana were able to manage the rebels, as they gave a clear hint about the high command's decision to take strict disciplinary action against them if they tried to damage the image of the party, especially prior to the general elections, which would directly affect the Prime Minister.

The threat to the survival of the Mayor was real and serious, which is reflected in Bhardawaj's decision to rush to Shimla despite his wife’s illness.

Former Horticulture Minister, Narender Bragta, a Dhumal loyalist, also held discussions with councillors to douse the fire, but without success. Bhardawaj's supporters feel that Bragta's staunch loyalist Shailender Chauhan is heading a rival group to oust the Mayor.

Strange are the ways and the methodology of politicians to handle a crisis in order to misguide the public. The state government transferred the Shimla MC Commissioner amidst the proceedings of the general house meeting, which will demoralise any bureaucrat.

The BJP councillors were adamant on removing the Mayor, but the axe has fallen on the Commissioner, who has been humiliated to give a face-saving device to the party councillors. Due to a strict diktat of the high command, the BJP councillors shifted their focus from sacking of the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor to the unceremonious transfer of the Commissioner, which has sent a bad signal. Now, Pankaj Rai will be the new MC Commissioner who had handled this post during the Congress regime also. It is a good beginning and also logical that some efficient officers are being given better postings by the present government, thereby ignoring the Congress tags on them.

Political observers feel a crisis has been averted for the time being and losing the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor’s posts in future will give a handle to the opposition to make it an election issue.

Enough time is left for the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor to change their style of functioning and win back the confidence of the dissident councillors, which will salvage their position in the party and restore their prestige in the eyes of the citizens of Shimla.

(The writer is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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