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Son of a bus driver who rose through the ranks to become Himachal CM

Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu was sworn in as Himachal Pradesh CM on December 11, 2022. ANI

Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, a four-time Congress MP, son of a bus driver, was sworn in as the 15th Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh on Sunday at a ceremony in Shimla attended by several senior Congress leaders , including Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Mallikarjun Kharge.

Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar has sworn an oath of office and secrecy to Sukhu (58), as well as to Mukesh Agnihotri (60), the leader of the opposition in the outgoing assembly, who will be the first vice- Chief Minister of State.

Rise of Sukhu and Congress emerge from the shadow of Virbhadra

The elevation of popular 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 ahead of the swearing-in ceremony.

Sukhu’s choice as chief minister is seen as Congress giving the highest post to a commoner, and also as shifting the center of party power from Upper Himachal to Lower Himachal.

Sukhu, seen as a rival to former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, hails from Nadaun in Hamirpur district and is the first Congress leader of Lower Himachal – comprising areas merged into Himachal in 1966 such as Nalagarh , Una, Hamirpur, Kangra and the lower hills of Kullu – to hold the top position in the state.

First Lower Himachal CM Congress

He will be the second chief minister of Hamirpur district, after Prem Kumar Dhumal of the BJP.

All former Congress chief ministers, including YS Parmar, Virbhadra Singh and Ram Lal Thakur, were from Upper Himachal.

The son of a Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation driver, Sukhu began his political career as a class representative at Government College Sanjauli during his student life rose through the ranks – as NSUI State Chairman, Chairman of the Youth Congress, Chairman of the Congress Committee of Himachal Pradesh – to become the Prime Minister of the State.

Sukhu vs. Pratibha Singh

In the race for the position of CM, Sukhu faced several rivals including Pratibha Singh, the wife of Virbhadra Singh.

Pratibha Singh’s supporters protested when Sukhu’s name was touted for the post of CM and claimed that their leader, who is a Mandi MP and chairman of the State Congress, should be the chief minister. Singh later said they had accepted the party high command’s decision.

In what can be seen as an attempt to appease angry supporters of the rival camp, Sukhu met Singh at her home before her swearing-in ceremony.

“She is the head of state of the party and we all work under her,” he said.

Former Union Minister Anand Sharma, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Himachal Congressional Affairs Officer Rajeev Shukla, State Congress Leader Pratibha Singh and High leader Sachin Pilot were also present.

People in traditional dress gathered in large numbers on the ridge to watch the ceremony. They danced to folk music and shouted slogans of “Sukhu bhai zindabad”. Some enthusiastic supporters lifted their likely ministers on the shoulders to reach the venue. But no other minister received 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 breathed new energy into the party. “When the winds of change blow from the hills, they descend to the plains,” he said.

Only third Congress state government in India

Congress wrested power from the BJP in the hill state by winning 40 of the 68 seats in the Assembly. The ballot took place on November 12 and the results were announced on Thursday.

It will only be the third Congress government in the country’s states after Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and their two chief ministers – Bhupesh Baghel and Ashok Gehlot – joined Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge to attend the swearing-in ceremony on the historic Ridge land in Shimla.

With PTI entries

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