How Sukhvinder Sukhu Won Chief Minister Race In Himachal Congress: 10 Factors

Congress picks risen-through-the-ranks Sukhvinder Sukhu, 58, as Himachal Chief Minister, not considering "royal" legacy as lone clinching factor

How Sukhvinder Sukhu Won Chief Minister Race In Himachal Congress: 10 Factors

Sukhvinder Sukhu known for an aggressive brand of politics, a style he carries from college days. (File)

After nearly four decades of his loyalty for the Congress, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu has been chosen as Himachal's Chief Minister, though rivals will get significant positions for balance.

Here are 10 factors behind Sukhvinder Sukhu's rise to top post:

  1. Numbers first: Of the 40 Congress MLAs in the House of 68, Sukhvinder Sukhu has support of more than half. Even in his home district of Hamirpur — also the home district of BJP Union Minister Anurag Thakur and his father, veteran Prem Kumar Dhumal — the Congress won four of five seats while the fifth also went to a Congress leader who had turned a rebel.

  2. Self-made image: His rivals Pratibha Singh and Mukesh Agnihotri started politics under the shadow of the late "Raja" Virbhadra Singh — she being wife, he as a journalist-cum-protege. They were pitted against a self-built image of Mr Sukhu, a former student leader who once sold milk and whose father was a bus driver. The rivals have got something for balance — Mukesh Agnihotri is set to become deputy chief minister; Pratibha is currently state unit chief and her son Vikramaditya may be given a senior position too.

  3. No stranger to Shimla: Sukhvinder Sukhu's Hamirpur district is a whole different region from the capital Shimla and the upper hills, where the Virbhadra Singh clan draws strength from being erstwhile royalty. But Mr Sukhu is no stranger to Shimla, where he did student politics and later won municipal polls before graduating to state-level politics and moving to his home district Hamirpur.

  4. Rise through ranks: For four decades, he has worked at almost all levels of the party in Himachal. Rising from the National Student Union of India (NSUI) to Youth Congress to the state unit chief. He made claims to the top seat, and made no secret of his rivalry with Virbhadra Singh, who died last year. This style made him stand out in a sea of leaders who, without a squeak, played second fiddle to the "Raja" of Rampur-Bushahr. 

  5. Aggressive brand: The word 'firebrand' is often used to describe Sukhvinder Sukhu, who has owned it since his days in the the hotly-contested Himachal Pradesh University elections. A lawyer by education, he made no boat-shaking statements since the victory, except a hint last night when asked about Pratibha Singh's supporters raising slogans: "Slogans don't make anyone chief minister."

  6. Team Rahul: 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'.

  7. Plus Priyanka: Priyanka Gandhi's 10 rallies — when Rahul Gandhi chose to stuck to his Yatra — are being given major credit. Pratibha Singh didn't help her chances when she recently contrasted the younger Gandhis working style with that of older members of the Congress's first family.

  8. Caste balance: Thakur/Rajputs as a community — the largest by numbers at one-third of the population — have had a dominant role in Himachal Congress's politics with Virbhadra Singh's family at the centre. The caste math won't be shaken much by giving the top post to Mr Sukhu from the same community. Balance is achieved by giving Mukesh Agnihotri a post, as Brahmins are politically dominant too, though third in numbers behind the Thakurs and the historically under-privileged Dalits.

  9. Region matters: Mr Sukhu's home region Hamirpur is part of the lower-mid Himalayas and the larger Kangra region. Virbhadra Singh — the state Congress by extension — was often accused of favouring Shimla and the upper hills where Pratibha Singh is called "Rani" long after the abolition of princely states. Giving Mr Sukhu the chair lends a wider regional reach to the party, which has managed barely 1 per cent higher vote share than the BJP this time.

  10. Marks a disruption: At the national level, the Congress apparently has an image problem of being the same old-same old. It has struggled to make a generational change in other states. The small state of Himachal, only the third it now rules, can thus be used for a big message: That the Congress is not shy of disruptive change, and family isn't all that matters. This pitch can tie into a non-Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, becoming the party chief, though the Gandhis remain the "high command".



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