Sukhwinder Sukhu sworn in as Himachal's 15th Chief Minister
Four-time Congress MLA Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, a son of a bus driver, was sworn in as the 15th Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh on Sunday at a ceremony here attended by a galaxy of senior party leaders including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar administered the oath of office and secrecy to Sukhu (58), as also to Mukesh Agnihotri (60), the leader of opposition in the outgoing assembly, who will be the state's first deputy chief minister.
The elevation of grassroots leader Sukhu marks a generational shift in the state Congress which has been under the shadow of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh. Party leaders paid floral tributes to Singh before the oath-taking ceremony.
This will only be a third Congress government in states across the country after Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and both their chief ministers -- Bhupesh Baghel and Ashok Gehlot -- joined Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge in attending the oath-taking ceremony at the historic Ridge ground in Shimla.
Former Union minister Anand Sharma, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Himachal Congress affairs incharge Rajeev Shukla, state Congress Chief Pratibha Singh and senior leader Sachin Pilot were also present.
People in traditional attire gathered at the Ridge in large numbers to witness the ceremony. They danced to the tune of folk music and raised slogans of "Sukhu bhai zindabad". Some enthusiastic supporters lifted their probable ministers on shoulders to reach the venue. But no other minister was administered the oath of office.
Sukhu's family including his mother, wife and daughters were present at the swearing-in ceremony.
The state Cabinet can have a maximum of 12 ministers including the chief minister. Hooda said the formation of a Congress government has infused new energy in the party. "When winds of change blow from the hills they go down to the plains," he said.
Sukhu's choice as the chief minister is being seen as the Congress giving the top post to a commoner, and also as the shifting of the party's power Centre from the Upper Himachal to Lower Himachal.
Sukhu, considered a rival of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, hails from Nadaun in Hamirpur district and is the first Congress leader from Lower Himachal -- comprising areas merged in Himachal in 1966 such as Nalagarh, Una, Hamirpur, Kangra and lower hills of Kullu -- to occupy the top state post.
He will be the second chief minister from Hamirpur district, after the BJP's Prem Kumar Dhumal.
All former Congress chief ministers including Y S Parmar, Virbhadra Singh and Ram Lal Thakur were from the Upper Himachal.
A son of a driver in the Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation, Sukhu started his political career as a class representative at Government College Sanjauli during his student life rose through the ranks -- serving as NSUI state president, Youth Congress president, Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee president -- to become the chief minister of the state.
Pratibha Singh's supporters lodged their protest on the name of Sukhu and asserted their leader, who is MP Mandi and State Congress president, should be the chief minister. Singh later said they have accepted the decision of the party high command.
The Congress wrested power from the BJP in the hill state winning 40 of the 68 assembly seats. The polling was held on November 12 and the results were declared Thursday.