Congress is facing a daunting task as striking a balance between regions, caste, factions and introducing young talent in the cabinet during expansion is a big challenge.
Four weeks after Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and Mukesh Agnihotri took oath as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister respectively, the expansion of 28 days old government is on the cards and Sukhu has to undergo an intricate exercise to accommodate his supporters and State Congress Chief Pratibha Singh’s faction.
Sukhu, who had gone to Delhi to have consultation with the Congress high command, is expected to return on Saturday and aspirants for ministerial berths are hoping that the names of new ministers would be announced in a day or two.
Three out of 12 districts have been given representation – Sukhu from Hamirpur, Agnihotri from Una and five times MLA from Bhatiyyat Kuldeep Pathania as Speaker of Vidhan Sabha from Chamba.
One minister is expected from Tribal areas of Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur. Kangra and Shimla with ten and seven Congress MLAs are expected to be given adequate share in the cabinet.
The Congress has won 40 out of 68 assembly seats including 10 seats from Kangra, seven from Shimla, four each in Una, Solan, and Hamirpur, three in Sirmaur, two each in Chamba and Kullu, and one each in Mandi, Bilaspur, Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti district and all the regions have to be represented.
Sukhu had maintained that the cabinet would be expanded in consultation with the high command and it would be a mix of professionals, youth and representatives of all sections.
“I heavily honour the massive mandate given by the people of the Kangra in the assembly elections and I assure that special focus would be laid for the development of the district in all spheres,” he had said on
his first visit to Kangra after becoming the CM of the hilly state.
The former ministers are asserting their rights.
A large number of second and third time MLAs are aspiring for the ministerial berth and both Sukhu and Pratibha (state Congress chief) factions are seeking cabinet posts for their supporters and what formula would be adopted to reconcile the conflicting claims is yet to unfold.
The front runners to the cabinet posts include Chander Kumar from Jawali in Kangra, a former minister and former Lok Sabha Member, oldest MLA Dhani Ram Shandil from Solan again a former minister and former Lok Sabha member.
Former minister Sudhir Sharma from Dharamshala in Kangra, six time MLA Harshvardhan Chauhan from Shillai in Sirmaur, former deputy speaker Jagat Singh Negi from Kinnaur.
Son of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, two times MLA from Shimla (Rural) Vikramaditya Singh and four times MLA from Jubbal- Kotkhai Rohit Thakur, grandson of former Chief Minister Ram Lal Thakur are also among hot contenders besides Sunder Singh Thakur from Kullu and Rajesh Dharmani from Ghumarwin.
Ashish Butail from Palampur in Kangra, the face of the business community and Chandershekhar (Dharampur), the lone Congress MLA from Mandi district are also in the race.
Situation has become peculiar in Shimla district as close aide of Sukhu and three times MLA from Kasumpti Anirudh Singh who defeated sitting urban development minister Suresh Bhardwaj, four times MLA from Rampur Nand Lal, three time MLA from Rohru Mohan Lal Brakta, and former Congress state president Kuldeep Rathore, who was instrumental in the Congress win in Mandi Lok Sabha and three assembly by elections in 2021, are in the race.