For the First Time– A Congressman from Lower Himachal dons the post of Chief Minister
Shimla: Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu is the new Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. Sukhu is the first Congress Chief Minister from the lower part of Himachal Pradesh. What happened in Congress on Sunday is the reverse pf what happened to BJP in 2017 when Jairam Thakur became the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh.
The grand old party witnessed the generational shift in Himachal Pradesh like BJP had in 2017- when Jairam Thakur became the Chief Minister. The first chief minister of the state was Yashwant Singh Parmar, succeeded by Ramlal Thakur. Virbhadra replaced Thakur and became Chief Minister of the state in 1983 and became indispensable within the party, despite stalwart dissidents like Ramlal Thakur, JBL Khachi, Sukh Ram and Kaul Singh Thakur.
Sukhu – a self-made Congressman- is a product of student politics like Former Chief Minister Jairam Thakur. Sukhu is the first Chief Minister of the state elected to Vidhan Sabha post-2000 and the first Congress CM from the Lower part of the state. Earlier, Yashwant Singh Parmar was from Sirmaur, Ram Lal Thakur and Virbhadra Singh were from Shimla district (All of them were from the Shimla parliamentary segment).
The generational power shift is always full of resentment. The power transition was easy for BJP since its CM candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal lost the elections and the party took it as an opportunity to hand over the power to the younger generation. In Congress, Pratibha Singh was keen to inherit Virbhadra Singh’s legacy. She even stated in the press that Congress won in Himachal in the name of Virbhadra Singh and that ignoring them (Virbhadra’s family) could be a bad idea.
Political analysts feel it was the right opportunity for Congress high command to sideline holly lodge (Residence of Pratibha Virbhadra Singh—a power centre for the last four decades). Some of them also blame the overconfidence of Pratibha Singh and her two-time legislator son Vikramaditya Singh.
Pratibha Singh had courted the controversy in an interview with a digital media platform in which she claimed that there had been a growing dissatisfaction within Congress as Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi do not give importance and time to senior Congress leaders. Later she alleged the media house of ‘twisting her words.
Political analysts observed that the second line of leadership within the Congress party would not prefer Pratibha Singh to lead the state as it could pave the way for Vikramaditya Singh.
But what happened on Saturday in Shimla was not new in the Congress. The state witnessed a high-octane drama as Pratibha Singh’s supporters expressed their resentment against the party’s high command. Soon after Congress ousted BJP and won 40 seats in Himachal, a faction led by Congress state president and wife of former Chief Minister late Virbhadra Singh – Pratibha Singh was one of the contenders for the post of Chief minister of the state.
But, Sukhu managed things well. Sukhu has never enjoyed a ‘cosy’ bond with the Holly Lodge. In the 90s, Sukhu remained close to the late Congress leader Sukhram and Later joined Anand Sharma’s faction. Sukhu remained president of the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee from 2013 to 2019 and had a strained relationship with then Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.
The new government can be termed as Congress 2. O government in Himachal Pradesh as the power shifted away from Holly Lodge after almost four decades.
CHALLENGES AND EXPECTATIONS FROM CONGRESS 2.O
The major challenge before Sukkhu is to strike a balance between factions, especially after the aggression shown by Pratibha Singh. The Chief Minister has numbers by his side but keeping Holly Lodge happy is a task. Sukhu’s litmus test will be the 2024 Loksabha elections.
Congress has made ten promises including Old Pension Scheme (OPS), Rs 1500 per month to women, 300 units of free electricity, startup fund. All of these require funds which is a major issue in Himachal Pradesh. The new government is faced with a funds crunch.
People of Himachal Pradesh ousted Jairam Thakur-led government in Himachal Pradesh. Since this is the first Congress government without Virbhadra Singh in more than three decades, people will surely have more expectations.
Saurabh Chauhan, an independent journalist, has 10 years of experience in Print and Digital Media. He has written on a variety of issues including women’s rights, environment, crime, governance, finance and politics at Shimla, Chandigarh and Lucknow. Saurabh is currently based in Lucknow.