Sukhwinder Sukhu set to become Himachal CM as Pratibha Singh pulls out

A former president of the Himachal Pradesh Congress committee, he is a four-term legislator and is considered close to Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI: Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, a four-time MLA from Nadaun in Hamirpur, is all set to be the next chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. His name was announced after a meeting of the newly elected Congress MLAs in the presence of the party’s central observers in the state capital, Shimla. The new chief minister is to take oath on Sunday.

Mukesh Agnihotri, the Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Assembly, will be the deputy chief minister and will also take oath on Sunday.

Soon after the announcement of the election of Mr Sukhu as the CLP leader and Mr Agnihotri the deputy chief minister, the Congress leadership left for the residence of the governor to stake claim to form the government.

Mr Sukhu is an old Congress hand. He was an activist at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, and led the NSUI state unit in the late 1980s. A former president of the Himachal Pradesh Congress committee, he is a four-term legislator and is considered close to party leader Rahul Gandhi.

Speaking to the media, the chief minister elect said, "I thank the high command for giving me this opportunity... We will fulfil our promises. People have given us a clear mandate... Give us some time and we will take some decisions that will be beneficial for everyone. Decisions will be taken after consulting youngsters and all Himachalis."

Mr Sukhu further added that the deputy CM designate and I will work as a team. He thanked the Congress leadership for the responsibility and said, "I started my political career at the age of 17 years. I will never be able to forget what the Congress party has done for me."

Hectic parleys to pick a consensus CM candidate went on for over two days. The AICC in-charge of Himachal Pradesh Rajeev Shukla, the two central observers -- Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and former Haryana CM Bhupendra Singh Hooda -- held several meetings with the newly elected MLAs. On Friday evening, the MLAs had unanimously passed a resolution authorising the party president to pick the Legislature Party leader.

After the Congress won the Himachal Assembly elections, Pratibha Singh, a Congress MP and the wife of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, indicated that she was in the running for the top job and got the backing of some Congress workers, who raised slogans in support of her. Ms Singh is also the state party chief.

Mr Agnihotri was also in the reckoning, but finally the party high command ruled in favour of party loyalist Mr Sukhu.

Ms Singh lost out because from her parliamentary constituency, the Congress only won one Assembly seat out of 10. Also, the party did not want to risk two byelections. Her son and the newly elected MLA Vikramaditya Singh is likely to be accommodated in the new Cabinet of the state. Putting up a brave face, she said, "I congratulate Sukhu Saheb and Agnihotri ji."

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.

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