regular-article-logo Tuesday, 26 September 2023
Choice beyond Virbhadra family

Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu to become chief minister of Himachal Pradesh

Sukhu, 58, started his political career with party student wing NSUI and rose to become Himachal Youth Congress president and then state Congress chief

Sanjay K. Jha New Delhi Published 11.12.22, 03:42 AM
Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu in Shimla on Saturday.

Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu in Shimla on Saturday. PTI

The Congress has chosen Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu for Himachal Pradesh chief minister, stepping out of the shadow of the family of Virbhadra Singh, the former royal who first became head of government 37 years ago and dominated the state’s politics till his death last year.

Virbhadra’s widow and Lok Sabha MP Pratibha Singh had seemed determined to keep the leadership within the family — her son Vikramaditya Singh too is an MLA. But Rahul Gandhi resisted the pressure and handed over the reins to Sukhu, whose father Raseel Singh was a driver with the Himachal State Transport Company.


Sukhu, 58, started his political career with party student wing NSUI and rose to become Himachal Youth Congress president and then state Congress chief.

Rahul’s involvement in the Himachal decision has been invisible because he is occupied with the Bharat Jodo Yatra, but it’s no secret that he had appointed Sukhu as state Congress president despite strong opposition from Virbhadra.

Before the 2019 elections, Sukhu was removed from the post under pressure from the former royal, with Rahul realising that ignoring Virbhadra might cost the party given his influence on state politics.

But earlier this year, Sukhu was made the campaign committee chairman, a clear indication that Rahul was looking for a transition after the election.

At the same time, Pratibha became the Himachal Congress president. Her son Vikramaditya is expected to be given a significant ministry in the state government.

As supporters of the erstwhile royal family staged demonstrations in Shimla demanding the chief minister’s post for Pratibha, a compromise was worked out with Mukesh Agnihotri, a loyalist of the Vibhadra family and leader of the Opposition in the last Assembly, picked to be deputy chief minister.

With Vikramaditya in the government, Agnihotri as deputy chief minister and Pratibha as state unit chief, the balance of power will be maintained and Sukhu will have to show a sense of accommodation.

Sukhu, a lawyer who had started out as a bright student leader and became a councillor in the Shimla municipality, is a four-term MLA from Nadaun in Hamirpur district.

He faces the daunting task of implementing the party’s ambitious election promises and dealing with the complex issues of apple farmers who are upset with a big corporate house.

The choice of chief minister may have been influenced by the party’s desire to break the elite network in the state.

Sukhu will have to smoothen his ties with all the factions because any mishap will bring the BJP into play. He is supposed to have the support of around 25 MLAs while around 15 supported Pratibha.

The central leadership will have to ensure unity and convince the chief minister to wipe the slate clean and take the royal family with him. Sukhu will take oath at 11am on Sunday.

Pratibha, known as “Rani Sahiba”, said she accepted the high command’s decision but her supporters appeared angry.

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