New Delhi: Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, who has been appointed the next chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, was a known detractor of party veteran Virbhadra Singh who had dominated the politics of the hill state for over five decades until his demise last year.
With the party bagging its first victory in Himachal Pradesh without the charismatic presence of Virbhadra Singh, SS Sukhu’s elevation makes it clear that the party is ready to move on.
More so, the party did not give in to the strong claim to the post mounted by Pratibha Singh, the party’s state unit chief and wife of Virbhadra Singh.
Son of a road transport corporation driver, 55-year-old SS Sukhu, had a modest beginning and used to run a milk counter at Chhota Shimla in his early days.
Rising through the ranks, SS Sukhu, a product of student politics, was a relentless fighter and remained the party’s state unit president for a record six years from 2013 to 2019 despite being frequently at loggerheads with Virbhadra Singh, a six-time chief minister.
The old rivalry came to the fore again after the party wrested power from the BJP in the just-concluded assembly polls, with both SS Sukhu and Pratibha Singh staking claim to the chief minister’s post.
SS Sukhu will be the first Congress leader from Lower Himachal — comprising areas merged in Himachal in 1966 such as Nalagarh, Una, Hamirpur, Kangra and lower hills of Kullu — to take up the top post.
He will be the second chief minister from Hamirpur district, after BJP’s Prem Kumar Dhumal.
The Nadaun MLA, who is considered close to Rahul Gandhi and was the Congress campaign committee head, was unanimously elected leader of the Congress Legislature Party on Saturday.
He will take oath as the chief minister on Sunday. He will be the seventh person to hold the post in the state.
That he enjoys the confidence of the party high command was clear when he was appointed chairman of the Congress election campaign committee and a large number of his supporters got party tickets, party insiders say.
During his tenure as the state Congress chief, he strengthened the organisation and his rapport with workers and legislators made him a strong contender for the chief minister’s post, they said.
He won the assembly election for the first time in 2003 from Nadaun, retained the seat in 2007 but was defeated in 2012 and won again in 2017 and 2022.
Sukhu was the general secretary of the state unit of the Congress-affiliated National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) and later became the president of the student body.
He did his MA and LLB from Himachal Pradesh University. He was elected twice as councillor of Shimla Municipal Corporation.
Sukhu on Saturday said that he is thankful to the Congress and Gandhi family for electing him as the Chief Minister.
Sukhu said that he is happy that despite being from an ordinary family he is going to be the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh.
“I am happy that I am going to be CM despite being from an ordinary family. I am thankful to the Congress party and the Gandhi family for giving me this opportunity. My mother never stopped me from being in politics. I have reached here today because of her blessings,” said Sukhu.