Pratibha Singh, Sukhu and Mukesh Agnihotri among favourites for Himachal CM post

By, Shimla
Dec 11, 2022 07:14 AM IST

Deciding on a chief ministerial face that can unite the party in the state is an immediate challenge for the Congress. Pradesh Congress Committee chief Singh, 66, wife of former chief minister, late Virbhadra Singh, was seen by many in the state unit as a natural claimant for the top post.

The Congress’s Himachal Pradesh unit chief Pratibha Singh, former state president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu and outgoing Congress Legislature Party leader Mukesh Agnihotri were being seen as front-runners for the chief minister’s post after their party clinched victory in the state elections, defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the results declared on Thursday.

Himachal Pradesh Congress president Pratibha Singh during a press conference, in Shimla (PTI)
Himachal Pradesh Congress president Pratibha Singh during a press conference, in Shimla (PTI)

Deciding on a chief ministerial face that can unite the party in the state is an immediate challenge for the Congress. Pradesh Congress Committee chief Singh, 66, wife of former chief minister, late Virbhadra Singh, was seen by many in the state unit as a natural claimant for the top post.

The newly elected MLAs are likely to meet in Shimla to decide on their leader, people familiar with the developments said. Sensing the party’s victory in the elections, Singh sent clear signals to the party’s high command a day before the election results about her candidature, said one of the people citied above.

“Virbhadra Singh’s legacy cannot be ignored,” Singh emphasised, adding that it was on the party high commands’ instance that she entered the fray for the Mandi Lok Sabha bypolls soon after Virbhadra Singh’s demise.

Also Read | Assembly election: What swung the vote in Himachal Pradesh

To a question on who will be the chief minister after the Congress won 40 of the 68 assembly seats in Himachal Pradesh, she said all MLAs will sit with senior leaders, including party observers Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Bhupesh Baghel and AICC in-charge for Himachal Pradesh Rajiv Shukla. “The MLAs will give their opinion on who they want to see as chief minister,” she said.

Her son Vikramaditya Singh, who registered his second victory in the assembly elections from Shimla (rural), has also advocated her mother’s claim over the CM’s post. “As a son and a responsible leader of the party, I want the high command to give the responsibility to my mother. Rest, the party’s choice will be acceptable to all,” he said.

Another strong contender, Sukhu, 58, who is the head of the party’s campaign committee, started his career as a student leader. He remained the elected general secretary of the Government College of Excellence and was later elected president of the college in 1985. He was part of the National Student Union of India – the Congress’s student wing – and was the NSUI state unit chief from 1989 to 1995. He was the state youth Congress chief from 1998 to 2008. Later, Sukhu was elected as municipal corporation councillor from Chotta Shimla ward twice and remained state party chief from 2013 to 2019.

Sukhu, who won for the fifth time from his Naduan assembly segment, has repeatedly staked claim to the CM’s post. He has also not refrained from issuing confrontational statements against Singh’s assertions for the CM’s post.

Journalist-turned-politician Mukesh Agnihotri, who is also in the race for the top post, won his fifth consecutive election from Haroli.

Agnihotri, who was the leader of the opposition in the assembly for five years, has the seniority factor and backing from a few legislators.

Former PCC chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore, who won from Theog in a multi-cornered contest, is also a CM hopeful and is claiming that he brought the faction-ridden party together in the last few years.

Rathore was replaced by Pratibha Singh as the head of the state Congress unit a few months ago.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Gaurav Bisht heads Hindustan Times’ Himachal bureau. He covers politics in the hill state and other issues concerning the masses.

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