On December 11, Himachal Pradesh saw a rare moment in State politics — in a State where politics is historically dominated by members of prominent families, a son of a bus driver took oath as the Chief Minister.
Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, 58, who comes from a humble family background in rural Himachal Pradesh, has been a vocal supporter of transparency in governance. When the Congress picked him as the Chief Minister after winning the Assembly election, Mr. Sukhu, a law graduate, said his government would ensure “zero per cent corruption and 100% transparency” in the hill State.
Born on March 27, 1964, in Bhavran village (Nadaun) of Hamirpur district, Mr. Sukhu had run a daily milk supply shop in his early days to support his family, before taking the political plunge. While in the Opposition, Mr. Sukhu had earned the reputation of an anti-corruption crusader: he had consistently demanded elected representatives, let they be the Chief Minister, Ministers, or MLAs, be compulsorily asked to provide details of their income, including the source, and place it in the public domain.
Known as a modest, soft-spoken, yet assertive leader in political circles, Mr. Sukhu has had a career that has seen both intra-party squabbles and cooperation. He was at loggerheads with the late Virbhadra Singh, the six-time Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, on several issues. Singh, a stalwart in State politics, had reservations on Mr. Sukhu’s style of working, but the latter stood firm on his ground, often taking on Singh. At the same time, he enjoys warm ties with many State Congress leaders and activists. Mr. Sukhu is also learnt to have cultivated a close relationship with Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Mr. Sukhu became active in politics from his college days. He was the general secretary and then president of the students’ union at the Government College, Sanjauli (Shimla) in 1984-85.
Later, he graduated in law from Himachal Pradesh University, where he continued his political journey. He joined the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), the student wing of the Congress, and remained the president of its State unit from 1989 to 1995.
Following this, Mr. Sukhu served as general secretary of the Himachal Pradesh Youth Congress and then became the president of the State Youth Congress (1998-2008). By that time, he had become one of the most influential organisers within the party. He became the president of the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee in 2013.
In his long career spanning three different units of the Congress in the State, Mr. Sukhu was known for nurturing and promoting his party colleagues — this legacy is said to have helped him in garnering the support of fellow leaders for the top post. He had never been a Minister, not even a chairman of any Board or Corporation. He rose straight to the post of Chief Minister, a rare accomplishment.
In his electoral journey, Mr. Sukhu was twice elected as a councillor of the Shimla Municipal Corporation — from 1992 to 1997 and 1997 to 2002. He first contested his Assembly election in 2003, from the Nadaun constituency in Hamirpur district. He has contested this seat five times and won on four occasions.
Now that Mr. Sukhu has reached the top post, he faces daunting tasks, which would test both his organisational and governance skills. His primary challenge is to make sure that he continues to enjoy the support of the factionalism-ridden party, which is led by Pratibha Singh, the widow of Virbhadra Singh. The imminent task at hand for the Chief Minister is the formation of the new Cabinet, which is still awaited even after a week since he took oath. In the long term, fulfilling the Congress’s populist electoral promises in the cash-strapped State will be another challenge. But Mr. Sukhu, who came up the hard way, seems determined to tackle them all.