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Himachal Pradesh Cabinet likely to be expanded on Sunday

There are 10 vacancies in the cabinet

122-Sukhvinder-Singh-Sukhu Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu

The much-awaited expansion of the Himachal Pradesh Cabinet will take place on Sunday, according to Raj Bhavan sources.

The swearing-in ceremony of the new ministers would take place at the Raj Bhavan on January 8 at 10 am, the sources said on Saturday.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu earlier in the day said he has handed over the list of probables for induction in his ministry to the Congress high command for approval.

Cabinet expansion is possible on Sunday or later, he had told reporters here after returning from Delhi where he held deliberations with top party leaders on the issue.

There has been much speculation over the names of new ministers since Sukhu and his deputy Mukesh Agnihotri took oath nearly a month ago following the Congress' win in the assembly election.

The list has been handed over to the high command and expansion would be done only after it is cleared by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Sukhu said.

There are 10 vacancies in the cabinet as the total number of ministers, including the chief minister and deputy chief minister, in Himachal Pradesh cannot exceed 12.

The chief minister and the deputy chief minister had taken oath on December 11, 2022.

Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar is scheduled to leave for Goa after administering the oath and would return on January 12.

The Congress is facing a daunting task due to the aspirations of various regions, castes and factions for representation. It also has to strike a balance while inducting old and new faces.

So far, Chief Minister Sukkhu has kept with himself Finance, General Administration, Home, Planning, Personnel and all other departments not allotted to any minister, while Deputy chief Minister Agnihotri holds Jal Shakti Vibhag, Transport and Language, Arts and Culture departments.

Three out of 12 districts have been given representation - Sukhu from Hamirpur, Agnihotri from Una and five times MLA from Bhatiyyat Kuldeep Pathania, who is from Chamba, as Assembly Speaker, a party source noted.

One minister is expected from the Tribal areas of Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur. Kangra and Shimla with ten and seven Congress MLAs respectively are expected to be given a share in the cabinet.

The Congress has won 40 out of 68 assembly seats including 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 districts.

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 various sections.

Former ministers and a number of second and third-time MLAs are among those aspiring for ministerial berths.

The party has to also reconcile the claims of the two factions led by Suhkhu and state Congress chief Pratibha Singh.

The front runners include Chander Kumar from Jawali in Kangra, a former minister and former Lok Sabha Member, and oldest MLA Dhani Ram Shandil from Solan, who is also 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, former chief minister Virbhadra Singh's son Vikramaditya Singh and four-time MLA from Jubbal-Kotkhai Rohit Thakur, who is the grandson of former chief minister Ram Lal Thakur, are also among the top contenders. 

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