Shimla: Four-time MLA and former Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and five-time MLA and leader of the opposition in the outgoing assembly Mukesh Agnihotri were today inducted as the chief minister and the deputy chief minister in a two-member cabinet that took oath at the open venue of historic Ridge Ground in Shimla on Sunday. The induction of deputy CM was seen as a balancing act to placate Agnihotri, whose claim to the CM’s post was earlier dismissed by the party high command.
The new Congress government has signalled generation change in the party and the shifting of party leadership from old Himachal to merged areas (the areas that became part of Himachal after reorganisation of neighbouring Punjab state). Sukhu is the first Congress CM from merged areas, as all three previous chief ministers from the party — YS Parmar, Thakur Ram Lal and Virbhadra Singh — hailed from old Himachal.
Ostensibly, both the CM and the Deputy CM, as also HPCC president Pratibha Singh, have publically announced that the party was fully united and worn in unison. However, the fact remains that the party is still divided between Sukhu’s and late Virbhadra Singh’s camps.
The rivalry between Sukkhu and the late former CM was well known, and the repeated assertion by Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh not to ignore his legacy was an indication that the Virbhadra faction has not reconciled.
The maximum number of cabinet members cannot exceed 12, but there are more than one and a half dozen aspirants for the ten ministerial berths. They include seniormost member and six-time MLA from Jwali, Chander Kumar, another six-time MLA from Shillai Harshwardhan, five-time MLA from Bhatiyyat Kuldeep Singh Pathania, four-time MLAs Vinay Kumar from Sri Renukaji, Rohit Thakur from Jubbal-Kotkhai, former minister from Dharamsala Sudhir Sharma, former deputy speaker from Kinnaur Jagat Singh Negi, three-time MLAs Col Dhani Ram Shandil (82) from Solan, Rajesh Dharmani from Ghumarwin, Aniruddh Singh from Kusumpti, two-time MLAs Vikramaditya Singh from Shimla (Rural), Sunder Singh from Kullu, lone Congress MLA from Mandi district Chandershekhar and former HPCC president Kuldeep Singh Rathore, elected from Theog.
Accommodating members from both the groups, while maintaining a regional and caste balance and introducing young blood, now poses a major challenge for the new CM.
Financial Crunch Another Big Concern
The twin promises of the revival of Old Pension Scheme (OPS) and Rs 1,500 per month to women are two major issues that scripted the victory of Congress. How these promises would be fulfilled in the wake of an acute financial crunch is a major question. The state is already under a debt of about Rs 75,000 crore, and raising huge loans in the budget for 2023-24 looks inevitable.
With the implementation of revised pay scales and pension to serving and retired employees has put a huge burden as the government cannot get away with recurring committed expenditure.
Large-scale transfers of officers and employees are on the cards, which will consume time and energy of ministers. Austerity and strict check on wasteful and unwanted expenditure is need of the time as the previous government had made several announcements without adequate budgetary provisions.
The author is a veteran journalist who has covered Himachal Pradesh for over five decades.
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