Mukesh Agnihotri, the leader of the opposition in the outgoing Himachal Pradesh assembly, will be the first Deputy Chief Minister of the hill state in what is being seen as a balancing act of the grand old party following protests by loyalists of the royals after Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu was announced the new Chief Minister. Mr Agnihotri is formal royal and six time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh's protege.
Ahead of the big announcement, naming Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu the Chief Minister, state Congress president and Virbhadra Singh's wife Pratibha Singh had staked claim to the top job, with a stern warning for the party high command. Her supporters mobbed the hotel where the party's central observers were staying, and raised slogans in her support. They had even stopped the car of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, one of the central observers, before the party's crucial meeting, and asserted their support for Pratibha Singh.
Mr Agnihotri's appointment is being seen as an olive branch to assuage the ex-royals, and contain factionalism in the state unit. Pratibha Singh had reportedly even batted for him to be made the Chief Minister after she was ruled out herself.
Mukesh Agnihotri is carrying on the political legacy of his father Omkar Chand Sharma, who had also contested Assembly elections on a Congress ticket. After his defeat, Mukesh Agnihotri was fielded by Congress from the Santokhgarh constituency.
Mukesh Agnihotri, a resident of Goindpur Tarf Jaichand village in the Haroli tehsil of Una district, located on the Himachal-Punjab border, entered politics directly from the legislature. He didn't contest any local polls and was directly fielded in Assembly elections.
Mukesh Agnihotri was born on October 9, 1962 in Sangrur, Punjab, to Omkar Chand Sharma, a District Public Relations Officer.
He did his schooling from Una district and got his Master of Science degree in Mathematics. He then did a Post Graduate Diploma in Public Relations, and became a journalist.
Before joining politics, Mukesh Agnihotri served as a journalist in Shimla and Delhi for almost two decades.
While working as a journalist in Delhi, Mukesh Agnihotri got close to the top Congress leadership, and eventually became a confidante of late Virbhadra Singh, six time Chief Minister of the state, who brought him into politics.
In 1993, when Virbhadra Singh was Chief Minister, Mukesh Agnihotri's father Omkar Chand Sharma was made the Vice Chairman of Himachal Pradesh Agro Packaging Department.
Omkar Chand Sharma was nominated by the Congress from the Santokhgarh constituency in the 1998 assembly elections, but lost to BJP candidate Jaikishan Sharma.
In the next state elections, in 2003, Congress fielded Mukesh Agnihotri instead of his father; he won in his first attempt.
He won from Santokhgarh again in 2007. However, due to delimitation in 2012, Santokhgarh went to the Una Assembly segment, while a new assembly constituency, Haroli, was formed.
In his third electoral win, Mr Agnihotri contested from Haroli, and served as the Industries Minister in the Virbhadra Singh-led government.
In 2017, he registered his fourth consecutive win, but the BJP formed the government.
In 2018, he was made the Leader of the Opposition and in the recently concluded elections, he was made a star campaigner by the party high command.
After winning five times in a row, he was in the race for the Chief Minister's post, but the high command has appointed him as Deputy Chief Minister as Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu enjoys popular support among the 40 newly elected MLAs.