Mitran da naam chal da (Your friend is known).
That was an oft-quoted poll campaign line of 60-year-old Mukesh Agnihotri, who will be sworn in as deputy chief minister of Himachal Pradesh — the first ever in the hill state — on Sunday.
Another line was his jibe at the then chief minister . “No one can save Jai Ram (Thakur) now, not even (US President) Joe Biden,” Agnihotri had told The Indian Express in the run-up to the Assembly election.
If there was anyone in the the Himachal Congress who took on the BJP government head-on during the last five years — both inside or outside the House — it was Agnihotri. As the Leader of Opposition, he engaged the CM directly on a daily basis.
Thakur had declared “Mukesh ka tambu ukhad gaya” when the Congress leader’s stage caved in after filing his nomination papers. Agnihotri and his daughter were among those who were injured in the incident. Not one to be subdued, Agnihotri hit back at CM with a sharp retort: “Hum agar dube, to aapko bhi le dubenge sanam.”
A former journalist with 20-year career with Hindi newspapers, Agnihotri has a way with words. On his aggression, and non-aggression of his party colleagues, he had quipped once in private, “Others have cordial relations with those in the government.” Words of his constituents must be echoing in Agnihotri’s ears who kept shouting during electioneering “agla CM kaisa ho, Mukesh Agnihotri jaisa ho”.
Now to contend with the post of deputy CM, Agnihotri won a fifth term straight from Haroli constituency but apparently lost in the numbers game — he had less number of MLAs on his side. A Brahmin, he believes that “Brahmins have played and are still playing an important role in the state politics”. His caste, however, didn’t stand him in good stead in a state where Rajputs are in majority. Agnihotri held the industries portfolio under the then chief minister Virbhadra Singh, whom he considers his political guru. “I belong to the late Virbhadra Singh school of thought which is all for development. I was fortunate enough to have worked with him for 18 years out of my 20-year political career,” Agnihotri had told The Indian Express.
Agnihotri’s name is known for development in his constituency. Now it will be interesting to know how he deals with developments on the aspirational front — aspirations of his constituents as well as his Congress colleagues.