The Congress, which wrested power from the BJP in Himachal Pradesh, on Friday met all its newly-elected MLAs to decide on the Chief Minister's name. The Congress on Thursday won 40 seats in the 68-member Assembly in the hill state which maintained its tradition of not voting any incumbent government to power since 1985.
Deciding on the chief ministerial face who can bind the party going forward is the immediate challenge for Congress.
State party president Pratibha Singh is considered a key frontrunner for the chief minister's post, closely followed by former party chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu and outgoing CLP leader Mukesh Agnihotri. Though Pratibha Singh did not contest the assembly election and is not an MLA, she had campaigned extensively across the state. Singh is presently the Mandi MP after she won in the bye-election from outgoing chief minister Jairam Thakur's home district.
Pratibha Singh's son Vikramaditya has been elected as an MLA from Shimla rural and is also among the hopefuls, even though many consider him too young for the top post. The other CM aspirants are Sukhu, an MLA from Nadaun, and Agnihotri, who was elected from Haroli. Both are hopeful that the party high command would recognise their work as former PCC chief and as Congress Legislature Party leader.
Former PCC chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore, who won from Theog in a multi-cornered contest, is also a CM hopeful and is claiming that he brought the faction-ridden party together in the last few years. Rathore was replaced a few months ago with Pratibha Singh as the head of the Himachal unit.