National

Meet Harsh Mahajan, Whose Rajya Sabha Move Stunned Himachal Congress

A political strategist par excellence, Harsh Mahajan's next agenda seems to be to pull the rags of Congress government in Himachal Pradesh.

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LoP Jairam Thakur with newly-elected RS member Harsh Mahajan, at Mall Road in Shimla on Thursday. PTI Photo
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“I have never lost any election. Everyone is feeling suffocated under Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu's rule. So, I am in touch with many MLAs. All are my old friends. They should vote according to their conscience,” declared Harsh Mahajan after filing his nomination papers for the lone Rajya Sabha seat in Himachal Pradesh.

This was hours before Congress nominee and noted Supreme Court lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi arrived at the scene to file his papers.

True to his words, Mahajan, 69, a former Congress minister and staunch lieutenant cum- political strategist of six-time Chief Minister late Virbhadra Singh, outmanoeuvred and surprised everyone, not alone in Himachal Pradesh—a gentle state—but also the country, thereby winning an impossible battle for the Upper House of Parliament via cross-voting.

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A record nine MLAs, six of them from the Congress, beside three independents cross-voted for Mahajan leaving an over-confident Chief Minister Sukhu, and his party, which had won 40 assembly seats in the last elections and formed the government in 2022.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s candidature, being an “outsider”, had left many state Congress Rajya Sabha aspirants, including former union minister Anand Sharma, red-faced. Unfortunately, even he also lost his luck when the draw of lots decided the winners because of the 34:34 tie between him and Harsh Mahajan.

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Fielding its candidate for the Rajya Sabha with just 25 MLAs in the 68-member House, even the state BJP leaders never had any inkling as to why the national leadership decided to contest the seat with backing of just 25 MLAs. Rather, in the state where the BJP and Congress alternate the power every five years, the Rajya Sabha seat has usually been a ruling party’s uncontested “trophy”.

But, fielding Mahajan, a Congress renegade who had joined the BJP ahead of 2022 Assembly polls and was later nominated to the party’s core committee, was actually a surprise. “Message came from the top—a night before Mahajan came with party’s duly signed authority (symbol) to file nomination papers,” a senior BJP MLA disclosed.

Insiders say BJP's top leadership, especially the party's national vice-president Saudan Singh was camping in Shimla to oversee the operation 'Rajya Sabha' and the Congress's poll management collapsed on February 27– the polling day when six rebels openly voted for Mahajan even showing their ballots to authorised party agent – Jagat Singh Negi, state's revenue minister.

This was despite the fact that all 40 MLAs and three independents had attended the dinner hosted by Abhishek Manu Singhvi in a luxury hotel the evening before the poll and went for breakfast at CM's residence along with other party MLAs.

Mahajan seems to have worked out this plan very meticulously to keep Sukhu believing that there would not be any cross-voting.

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Who is Harsh Mahajan?

A second-generation politician, Mahajan is the son of former Himachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker Des Raj Mahajan, who hailed from Chamba. Born on December 12, 1955, he did his schooling at St Edwards’ Shimla and later went to Sriram College of Commerce, New Delhi and at Delhi University, New Delhi.

A protégé of former union minister Gulam Nabi Azad, Mahajan remained President of the State Youth Congress between 1986 and 1995 before he was elected to the state Assembly in 1993 and again in 1998 and 2003.

A loyalist of former union minister Anand Sharma, Mahajan was also a staunch loyalist of former telecom minister Sukh Ram and veteran Congress leader Vidya Stokes. He grew under the patronage of Vidya Stokes but soon came close to Virbhadra Singh under whom he also served as Parliamentary Secretary from 1994 to 1998 and also a Cabinet minister.

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He soon regained the confidence of Virbhadra Singh when facilitated the election of Pratibha Singh, former CM’s wife from Mandi as her election strategist.

He is said to have played a key role in the alleged kidnapping of a BJP rebel MLA Ramesh Dhawala in 1998 to help Virbhadra Singh form the government despite Congress falling short of numbers in the House. Virbhadra Singh later had to resign – ahead of the floor test.

Mahajan’s soaring political graph saw a pause when he declined to contest the 2012 assembly elections from Chamba even as he was given a ticket by the party. His supporters from Chamba drove all the way to Shimla to persuade him to change his mind but Mahajan refused to budge.

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Speculations were rife about him that Mahajan feared a “character” assassination campaign during the elections due to a purported video but reasons for his electoral ‘retirement’ are still a mystery.

However, he accepted the post of Chairman of State Cooperative Bank between 2012 and 2017 with Cabinet rank and served Virbhadra Singh as a political strategist virtually running his show.

In 2022, Mahajan was made Himachal Pradesh state Congress working president but he quit to join the BJP ahead of the state Assembly poll—which the BJP lost to the Congress bringing Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, his lost associate, as Chief Minister.

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Winning the Rajya Sabha seat for the BJP, Mahajan has scored a new limelight which many also term as his stellar performance owing to his own connections in the Congress, a fiercest jolt to the grand old party.

Mahajan says, “Rajya Sabha victory will be a game-changer in the hill state which will soon mark the return of the BJP to the power very soon. This is the first step to the formation of the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh.”

“Mahajan’s win has given a new political strength to the BJP in Himachal Pradesh. The Congress days are over in the state. The government is on the ventilator,” says state BJP president Rajeev Bindal.

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