Although the Indian National Congress has managed to secure 40 seats in the Himachal Pradesh State Legislative Assembly elections, it seems to be in a spot right now over the potential chief ministerial candidate. Senior party leaders like Rajiv Shukla, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel, and senior leader Bhupinder Hooda have reached Shimla and are holding a high-profile meeting at the Radisson hotel.
Though many names have been doing rounds in the political circle, Congress's Himachal Pradesh chief Pratibha Singh, wife of late Virbhadra Singh, seems to be strongest at this time. Lok Sabha MP from Mandi, Singh has played a key role in the Congress campaign.
After winning the elections, Singh, 66, claimed the support of Congress MLAs who were loyal to her husband Virbhadra Singh. She has reportedly said that the party high command should not ignore the legacy of Virbhadra Singh.
In an interview with NDTV, Singh said that she can lead the state as the Chief Minister. “I can lead the state since Sonia ji and the High Command gave me the responsibility to lead the party ahead of the elections. It won't be right to sideline Virbhadra Singh's family when the election was fought and won in the name of Virbhadra Singh. We won 40 seats only because people have a strong emotional connect with Virbhadra Singh."
Singh's son Vikramaditya Singh has also said that he is ready to vacate his Shimla rural seat for his mother, so that she can be the chief minister.
"As a son, I want Pratibha ji to get the big responsibility. Besides being a son, I am also a responsible leader of the party. We will respect whatever the party decides. I am sure the party will take into account what the people want. We have to walk the path shown by Virbhadra ji. The government will work on the Virbhadra Singh vikas model."
In between the talks, Singh’s supporters in the state blocked Baghel's convoy and reportedly shouted slogans backing Singh.
The message is loud and clear that many supporters in the state want Singh to take over as the CM. But that’s not all. There are at least two more leaders who are in the race for the CM post. They are former state chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, Mukesh Agnihotri, the leader of the Congress legislature party in the outgoing assembly.
Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, 58, is a party veteran and the Head of the Congress Campaign committee. On Thursday, he got elected for the fifth time to the state assembly. In 2022 elections, he defeated Vijay Agnihotri of the BJP by a margin of 3,363 votes.
Both Singh and Sukhu are strong names in the Rajput communities, and a huge followers’ base.
He was a journalist before entering politics. He started his political career in 2003 by contesting assembly election on a Congress ticket, and was a cabinet minister in the Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh-led government in 2012, and was his follower for years. He became the leader of the Opposition in 2017 when Congress was ousted by the BJP.
Agnihotri is close to Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and is a strong Brahmin candidate. To date, the state has seen only one Brahmin lead as chief minister. It was Shanta Kumar.
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