Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu sworn in as Himachal’s 15th CM, Mukesh Agnihotri as deputy CM
Shimla, Dec. 11 (PTI): Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, a son of a bus driver and four-time Congress MLA, was on Sunday sworn in as the 15th Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh at a ceremony here attended by senior party leaders including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar administered the oath of office and secrecy to Sukhu (58), as also to Mukesh Agnihotri (60), the leader of opposition in the outgoing assembly, who will be the state’s first deputy chief minister.
The elevation of grassroots leader Sukhu, the MLA from Nadaun, marks a generational shift in the state Congress which has been under the shadow of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh who guided the party in the state for five decades. Party leaders paid floral tributes to a portrait of the six-time chief minister before the oath-taking ceremony.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Sukhu on his swearing-in and assured “all possible cooperation from the Centre to further the development of Himachal Pradesh”.
This will only be a third Congress government in states across the country currently after Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and both their chief ministers — Bhupesh Baghel and Ashok Gehlot — joined party president Mallikarjun Kharge at the oath-taking ceremony at the historic Ridge ground in Shimla.
Former Union minister Anand Sharma, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Himachal Congress affairs incharge Rajeev Shukla, state Congress Chief Pratibha Singh and senior leader Sachin Pilot were also present.
Hooda said the formation of a Congress government has infused new energy in the party. “When winds of change blow from the hills they go down to the plains,” he said.
People in traditional attire gathered at the Ridge in large numbers to witness the ceremony, dancing to the tune of folk music and raising “Sukhu bhai zindabad” slogan. Some enthusiastic supporters lifted their probable ministers on shoulders to reach the venue.
However, no other leader was administered the oath of office in the state which can have a maximum 12 ministers. Sukhu’s family including his mother, wife and daughters were present at the swearing-in ceremony.
Sukhu’s choice as the chief minister is also being seen as the Congress party shifting its power Centre from the Upper Himachal to Lower Himachal.
Sukhu, considered a rival of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, hails from Nadaun in Hamirpur district and is 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 occupy the top state post.
All former Congress chief ministers including Y S Parmar, Virbhadra Singh and Ram Lal Thakur were from the Upper Himachal. Sukhu will be the second chief minister from Hamirpur district, after the BJP’s Prem Kumar Dhumal.
A son of a driver in the Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation, Sukhu started his political career as a class representative at Government College Sanjauli during his student life.
He rose through the ranks — serving as NSUI state chief, Youth Congress president, Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee president — to become the chief minister of the state.
But his nomination to the top post was not smooth.
State Congress president Pratibha Singh’s supporters had lodged their protest against his appointment and asserted their leader, who is an MP from Mandi, should be the chief minister.
Singh later said they have accepted the decision of the party high command.
In an attempt to put up a united face, her family was given due acknowledgment by the top Congress leadership during the swearing-in ceremony.
Pratibha Singh, who was the last Congress leader to reach the venue, was accorded a warm welcome and was hugged by Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. She was seated beside Priyanka Gandhi on the dias.
Rahul Gandhi posed for a photograph with Pratibha Singh and her MLA son Vikramaditya Singh.
Earlier, Sukhu personally went to the Holly Lodge, the residence of Pratibha Singh, to invite her to the venue, and said the “first invitation” was given to her as she is the leader of the Congress organisation in the state.
Deputy Chief Minister Mukesh Agnihotri, a journalist-turned-politician, is the Brahmin face of the Congress in Himachal Pradesh and with his elevation, the party hopes to sustain the community’s support.
Agnihotri was one of the frontrunners for the post of chief minister. But the party picked Nadaun MLA Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu for the top post and him as his deputy.
The five-time MLA from Haroli in Una district, Agnihotri belongs to a Congress family and his father, Onkar Sharma, had unsuccessfully contested the assembly election in 1988 from Santokgarh (now Haroli) after his retirement from the post of district public relations officer (DPRO).
Agnihotri, who holds a PG Diploma in Public Relations and Advertisement, started his career in journalism as a correspondent in the Hindi daily ‘Veer Pratap’ and rose to become the bureau head in the ‘Jansatta’ before joining politics.
He won assembly elections from Haroli in 2003, 2007, 2012, 2017 and 2022. Considered close to former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, he had served as the state’s industry minister.
The Congress wrested power from the BJP in the hill state winning 40 of the 68 assembly seats. The polling was held on November 12 and the results were declared Thursday.