By choosing Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu as the new Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, the Congress has made a point: That humble origins and grassroots work can be valued over "royalty" and political lineage. This comes even as BJP's Amit Shah, during the campaign, took a dig that SS Sukhu won't get the post as he is not "the son or daughter of somebody".
A bus driver's son from Hamirpur district in a region far from the power centre, Mr Sukhu, 58, once sold milk in Shimla. He began his political career as a student leader at a college in Sanjauli near Shimla, graduating to Himachal Pradesh University campus polls in the 1990s; and then rose through the ranks.
"A matter of pride that the son of an ordinary family will be our chief minister, thanks to our leadership," senior Congress leader Anand Sharma tweeted, thanking the Gandhis and party chief Mallikarjun Kharge.
His chief rival was Pratibha Singh, the state Congress president who draws her power from the legacy of her late husband, Virbhadra Singh, an ex-royal and six-time chief minister. Virbhadra Singh's son Vikramaditya Singh is likely to get a significant ministry under Mr Sukhu.
"Your number won't come,” Union Home Minister Amit Shah had remarked about Mr Sukhu last month at a rally in Nadaun, which Mr Sukhu has won the fourth time as the Congress won 40 of the state's 68 segments and unseated the BJP.
“There is no place for kings and queens in a democracy. In a democracy, you need to work for the people," Mr Shah had said.
He had also underlined that the BJP's Jairam Thakur, whom Mr Sukhu now succeeds, has no political family legacy.
#WATCH | People celebrate in Hamirpur's Nadaun, native place of #HimachalPradesh CM-designate Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu pic.twitter.com/cKOJzthkFs— ANI (@ANI) December 10, 2022
Against Mr Sukhu, Pratibha Singh had made a play for the top post citing "Raja" Virbhadra Singh's legacy. But Mr Sukhu had the numbers, sources said, and his grassroots image further clinched it for him.
Another rival, Mukesh Agnihotri, had also started politics under the shadow of the Virbhadra Singh, as a journalist-cum-protege. He will be Deputy Chief Minister.
Sukhvinder Sukhu is among early members of Team Rahul. He is also young by political standards; at 58, around a decade younger than Pratibha Singh, 66.
Choosing a worker-turned-leader over royal inheritors sits well with the Congress's revived message of working at the grassroots — a key theme of Rahul Gandhi's 'Bharat Jodo Yatra'. Plus, Priyanka Gandhi, who held 10 rallies when Rahul Gandhi chose to stuck to his Yatra, also played a role, it is learnt.
At the national level, this move also marks a disruption for the the Congress. And it ties into a non-Gandhi "son of the soil", Mallikarjun Kharge, becoming the party chief, though the Gandhis remain the "high command".