Shimla: The tragic demise of former six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has left a huge void in the future of the Congress party in the state. No other Congress leader has a mass appeal that Singh enjoyed.

Virbhadra Singh had been the undisputed leader of the party for nearly four decades. Though, Vikramaditya Singh is unlikely to take the place of his father as he is still new in politics and has a long way to go. It is also to be seen that whether Vikramaditya Singh will be able to fit the shoes of his father and continue the legacy of his father.

This leaves a question that who will step up as the face of the CM candidate.

The upcoming by-polls in three Legislative Assembly Constituencies and on Parliamentary Constituency is very crucial for the Congress party. The results of these by-polls are very likely to decide the future of Congress in the upcoming 2022 Legislative Assembly elections.

Glance at leaders

The immediate option could be Pratibha Singh, wife of late Virbhadra Singh. She has also been elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) from Mandi twice. The mass appeal of Virbhadra Singh and his emotional connection with the people could work for Pratibha Singh as she might step in to carry forward his legacy.

Former Union Cabinet Minister and Deputy Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma could also be the one who could be the face of Congress in the upcoming Legislative Assembly polls in 2022.

Then there is Veteran leader Kaul Singh Thakur, who could be the one who could step in as the next CM candidate. Thakur who was first elected into the Assembly in 1977 was considered as a potential CM candidate in the 2012 polls. He lost to Jawahar Thakur in the 2017 Assembly polls. He is presently the senior-most party man in the state.

The current MLA from Dalhousie Asha Kumari could also become the first woman CM of the state. She has enjoyed a long and successful political career. She was elected to State Legislative Assembly in 1985 and was re-elected in 1993, 1998 and 2003 from Banikhet what became the Dalhousie Assembly constituency after delimitation. She was again elected from Dalhousie in 2012 and in 2017 from Dalhousie.

Mukesh Agnihotri, currently the leader of opposition in the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly, is also mustering ambition to lead the state. Before entering politics, Agnihotri was a journalist. He worked as a senior correspondent for a newspaper in Shimla for 10 years. Agnihotri was first elected as an MLA from Santokhgarh Assembly Constituency – now known as Haroli segment in Una district. He was re-elected in 2007, 2012 and 2017 for the state assembly constituency.

Another possible CM candidate of Congress could be the current MLA from Nadaun and former President, Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu. He has been at odds with Singh in the past. There has been a battle of supremacy between the two leaders. Both Sukhu and Singh had made allegations against each other in the past. When Sukhu was State President of the party, Singh accused him of weakening the party while Sukhu had accused Singh of blackmailing party members before every election. Now, with Singh’s passing, Sukhu could gain supremacy in the party and can emerge as the strong contender for the next CM candidate of Congress.

GS Bali from Kangra can also emerge as a strong contender. He was elected as MLA in 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2012. He was also appointed as the cabinet minister twice. However, he lost to Bharatiya Janata Party’s Arun Kumar in the 2017 Legislative Assembly polls.

Recently, Bali also made his intentions clear after he said in a press conference that it’s time for the state to get a CM from Kangra.

Another leader who can possibly be the next CM if Congress comes back into power is Rajender Rana, the man who defeated BJP’s CM candidate and former two-time CM Prem Kumar Dhumal in 2017.

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Navneet Rathore is a Shimla based journalist having two-years of experience in the field of journalism. Navneet is a post-graduate in Journalism and Mass Communications from Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla and is specialised in crime, education, health, environment, agriculture and Horticulture beats.