In the race for the Himachal chief minister's chair -- besides state unit chief Pratibha Singh -- are Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and Mukesh Agnihotri. Dark horses such as Harshwardhan Chauhan are seen to be in the race, too, but for now the three factions are the story.
Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, a third-time MLA from Nadaun in Hamirpur district, is a lawyer by education and emerged through the ranks from the Congress wing National Student Union of India (NSUI).
During the campaign, he acknowledged factionalism, and made a characteristically straight remark to Outlook magazine, "There is no factionalism in Congress. It died with Virbhadra Singh's death," referring to the former chief minister whose wife Pratibha Singh remains a contender. "Yes, definitely, I too have aspirations to be Chief Minister," he said to another question.
Vastly different in origins from the ex-royal Virbhadra Singh, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, as an activist at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, led the NSUI state unit in the late 1980s. Graduating to a fulltime political career, he was president of the state Youth Congress in the 2000s.
Though from another district in another region of the state, he won the municipal election twice in Shimla, and was then made secretary of the state unit in 2008, eventually getting to the top of the state unit. He was replaced as state unit chief in 2019 by Kuldeep Rathore reportedly in a compromise against factionalism. After Virbhadra Singh's death, his wife was made state unit chief early this year -- a move attributed to ensuring sympathy vote doesn't fritter away.
On the chief minister's chair, Sukhvinder Sukhu has been less forthright than Pratibha Singh, and has simply stuck to the "high command will decide" line.
Pratibha Singh, a three-time MP, draws her power and stature from being the wife of the late Virbhadra Singh, the royal scion of Rampur-Bushahr near Shimla who was chief minister six times.
Virbhadra Singh died last year and his son with Pratibha Singh, Vikramaditya Singh, is now two-time MLA. Supporters draw and emotional connect with the "Rani", arguing that "votes were sought in Raja sahib's name". She and the son have also made this point while making a play for her to get the chair.
Another contender is Mukesh Agnihotri, Leader of Opposition during the now-voted-out BJP government, who has won his fifth assembly election since moving from journalism to politics around two decades ago. He has not said anything yet.
Mukesh Agnihotri is considered a protege of the "royal family", particularly Virbhadra Singh, but has gradually grown to having his own ambitions.
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