Pratibha Singh Out Of Himachal Chief Minister Race, Supporters Protest

Former state chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, who reportedly has the support of over 25 MLAs, is now the favourite for the top job.

Pratibha Singh had yesterday staked her claim to the job.


In a fresh twist to the Himachal Pradesh crowning saga, state Congress president Pratibha Singh is out of the race to be Chief Minister, sources have said. Her supporters have mobbed the hotel where the party's central observers are staying, and are raising slogans in her support. They had even stopped the car of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, one of the central observers, yesterday before the party's crucial meeting, and asserted their support for Pratibha Singh.

Hours before the Congress's big meeting yesterday to decide on its Chief Minister, Pratibha Singh had staked her claim to the job with a sharp reminder for the leadership in Delhi. She said the elections were fought and won in the name of her husband Virbhadra Singh, who died last year, and it would be "a disaster" to sideline his family.

However, she doesn't enjoy popular support among the grand old party's newly-elected 40 MLAs which is why she has been dropped from the contest, sources said.

Former state chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, who reportedly has the support of over 25 MLAs, is now the favourite for the top job. Mukesh Agnihotri, the leader of the Congress legislature party in the outgoing assembly, is also in the race.

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).

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 full-time political career, he was president of the state Youth Congress in the 2000s.

Mukesh Agnihotri has won his fifth assembly election since moving from journalism to politics around two decades ago. He has not said anything yet. He is considered a protege of the "royal family", particularly Virbhadra Singh, but has gradually grown to having his own ambitions.

Virbhadra Singh, a former Chief Minister, was the Congress's tallest leader in Himachal Pradesh until he died last year.

Pratibha Singh was elected Lok Sabha MP from his constituency, Mandi. She did not contest the state election, but her son Vikramaditya Singh did.

"There will be many claimants to the post of Chief Minister and the high command's decision is the final one, but Virbhadra's legacy cannot be neglected," Pratibha Singh had said.

Top Congress leaders met with newly elected Congress MLAs in Shimla yesterday to gauge who enjoys popular support, and devise a strategy to keep the flock together in the hill state, where factionalism is rife.

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who party leaders credited for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls win, will take the final call on who will be the Chief Minister of the state, sources have said. The announcement will be made at 4 pm. This comes after a day of high drama in the hill state, with rival factions jostling for the top post.