The Congress on Saturday picked Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu as the next Himachal Pradesh chief minister and Mukesh Agnihotri as his deputy, two days after wresting power from the BJP in the hill state.
Sukhu, 58, who headed the party’s campaign committee, and Agnihotri, 60, who was the leader of opposition in the outgoing assembly, will take oath on Sunday.
After a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party in Shimla, its second in 24 hours, Congress’ central observer and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel announced the election of Sukhu as the CLP leader.
Addressing the media accompanied by another observer, former Haryana Chief Mminister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and AICC in charge for Himachal Pradesh Rajeev Shukla, he announced that Agnihotri would be the deputy chief minister.
Soon after, the Congress leadership left for the residence of the governor to stake claim to form the government.
The names were finalised by the party leadership following deliberations with the MLAs over two days amid hectic lobbying by aspirants, including state Congress Chief Pratibha Singh, the wife of Virbhadra Singh, party sources said.
In a meeting Friday evening, the MLAs had unanimously passed a resolution authorising the party president to pick the legislature party leader after the three leaders reached the venue with their supports who raised slogan in their favour.
Sukhu, a former president of the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee, is a four-term legislator and is considered close to party leader Rahul Gandhi, they said.
He was known as a detractor of Congress veteran and six-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh, according to the sources.
Son of a road transport corporation driver, Sukhu had a modest beginning and used to run a milk counter at Chhota Shimla in his early days.
Rising through the ranks, he 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.
He won the assembly election for the first time in 2003 from Nadaun in Hamirpur district, retained the seat in 2007 but was defeated in 2012 and won again in 2017 and 2022.
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 occupy the top post. He will be the second chief minister from Hamirpur district, after BJP’s Prem Kumar Dhumal.
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.