It was a David-vs-Goliath fight, and now David has won.
The David-like diminutive figure here is 58-year-old Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, who was sworn in as new chief minister of Himachal Pradesh on Sunday. And the Goliath-like giant figure he always faced was the late Virbhadra Singh, six-time chief minister of the hill state.
Sukhu entered student politics at the age of 17 years. Right from the beginning, he had always been on the wrong side of Virbhadra Singh, but stood his ground valiantly. People close to him believe Raja (Virbhadra Singh) did not want a new line of leadership to emerge in the state but Sukhu soldiered on. Even his PCC president tenure was marked by acrimonious relationship with the then CM Virbhadra Singh.
“I’m committed to the party ideology. It was all issue-based — there were issues on which I supported him (Virbhadra Singh) and there were issues on which I opposed him,” Sukhu had told The Indian Express in an interview on May 13 this year. In April, he was appointed as chairman of the campaign committee.
As a political practice, chairpersons of campaign committees are generally projected as chief ministerial candidates. But, in Sukhu’s case, he wasn’t because at that point of time it was more important for the Congress high command to keep the HP unit intact in the absence of their tallest state leader Virbhadra Singh, who had died in 2021.
Sukhu claims he has been the longest serving NSUI state head for six years, the longest serving Youth Congress state chief for 10 years and the longest serving PCC president for six years. “Now I will be the longest serving chief minister,” he had joked during that interview over pakoras and tea.
So far, so good! Sukhu was believed to be behind the April rejig of the state unit which resulted in the dislodging of PCC chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore, who was replaced by Mandi Lok Sabha MP Pratibha Singh. The 58-year-old succeeded in getting tickets to people of his choice and stole a march on other CM contenders.
Now an uphill task awaits the new chief minister. Virbhadra’s wife (Pratibha Singh) is PCC president, his son (Vikramaditya Singh) is a newly elected MLA and his protege (Mukesh Agnihotri) is Sukhu’s deputy. How Sukhu takes them along and deals with the Virbhadra legacy will be his biggest challenge.
How Sukhu, who has a 2003 model of Alto car as “I don’t love fancy cars”, drives his government on his anti-corruption plank will also be watched keenly. “We’ll bring Transaparency Bill when we form the government. This will apply to all those holding public office. Source of income, unhone kya kharida, unhone kya becha (what they bought, what they sold) — they will have to tell all, declare every detail every year,” he had told The Indian Express in another interview on October 28 during campaigning for the Assembly election this year.