Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, the new Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh who took oath earlier today, has disagreed that the state unit of the Congress is riven with factionalism. “Lobbying happens, but there is no factionalism in the Congress in Himachal… It was a narrative by BJP,” he told NDTV in an exclusive interview. Even so, he made it clear that he would not have anything to do with the government formation. It would be a “challenge for Rajiv Shukla (Congress’s in-charge for Himachal Pradesh), he will take all the decisions,” he said.
Mr Sukhu, who came from a humble background but rose through the ranks in the Congress, was chosen as the Chief Minister over the claims of Pratibha Singh and Mukesh Agnihotri – the wife and protégé of Himachal’s six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, an erstwhile royal. There are expectations that the party will have to do a balancing act by offering Pratibha Singh and her son Vikramaditya Singh key seats in the government or the party. Mukesh Agnihotri took oath today as the Deputy Chief Minister.
Sources said Mr Sukhu, 58, had the support of more than half the Congress MLAs in the state.
But his election was also expected to send out a message — that dynastic politics and inherited privileges are on the way out in the Congress, dovetailing with the election of Mallikarjun Kharge to the top post of the party.
His selection was also a rebuff to the BJP, which has been making jibes at the Congress. In the run-up to the elections, Union minister Amit Shah had said that Mr Sukhu won’t get the post as he is not “the son or daughter of somebody”.
Mr Sukhu, whose father was a bus driver, had once sold milk and started his political journey as a student leader. In time, he rose to be part of Team Rahul Gandhi.
“I have risen from a very humble background, it’s a moment of pride that a man like me has been made the Chief Minister,” he told NDTV today. “It is a moment of happiness that a Congress worker was given this opportunity. I thank the Congress and the Gandhi family for this,” he added.
Asked about the legacy of Virbhadra Singh, the party’s best-known face in the state, Mr Sukhu, who counted the six-time Chief Minister among his political rivals, said: “We will take forward the Congress legacy. It is not only Virbhadra Singh’s legacy but the legacy of other leaders like Yashwant Singh and Ramlal Thakur also that we should be taking forward. The party is bigger than anything.”