Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu has been in office for over two months, and he has started putting in motion the Congress’s key promises like reinstating the old pension scheme and turning around the state’s economy. He is the third Congress chief minister in power at the moment, while the other two face a tough challenge as Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh face elections later this year. A quintessential organisation man, Sukhu insists on strengthening the Congress organisation before taking on its political rivals. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Q/ What is the message from the Congress plenary session?
A/ According to the Congress constitution, it was important to hold a plenary since Mallikarjun Kharge became party president. It is to authorise him to take all decisions as AICC chief. The Congress being the principal opposition party, the entire country’s eyes are on it. The emerging situation was discussed, resolutions were passed, the seats in the Working Committee were increased to 35, and 50 per cent reservation was introduced for those under 50 (belonging to youth, women and SC, ST).
Q/ With the 2024 general elections a year away, there are discussions about opposition unity.
A/ The opposition is the Congress. People accept the Congress as the main opposition party, even though we have only 52 members in the Lok Sabha and do not have the designation in Parliament. In the plenary, we said we would bring alliance partners with us. We are working in that direction. The Congress will stay in the lead role; it is important for all parties to come together on a common platform and take on the BJP’s challenge.
Q/ Who will be your prime ministerial candidate? Will it be from the Congress or will you accept someone from another party?
A/ There has not been any discussion on the prime ministerial candidate. The opposition has to come together and contest the elections. We should get enough MPs to elect a prime minister, only then the issue will be decided through talks.
Q/ What about the perennial demand that Rahul Gandhi should be the prime ministerial candidate and the face of opposition unity?
A/ If Rahul Gandhi wanted to be prime minister, he could have done so in 2009. The UPA had the majority and Dr Manmohan Singh offered him the PM’s post, but he did not take it. Rahul thinks for society, the country and the Congress ideology, which respects all religions. He wants no diversion from this ideology and that is why he keeps raising his voice. He is the most vocal critic against government policies, but he does not have the desire to become prime minister.
Q/ Would it not make a difference if there is a clear prime ministerial face?
A/ No, it is not necessary. In Himachal Pradesh, we did not have a chief ministerial face. We fought under a common leadership and won. A trend of power-driven politics started in the past few years, where it is important to have a prime ministerial candidate first. There is no need for that. We should have a common ideology and then we fight under a collective leadership.
Q/ What is the alternative to power-driven politics?
A/ In power-driven politics, everything runs according to the post and the person occupying that post. If someone becomes a chief ministerial candidate, then people follow him. In this scenario, the organisation becomes weak. Now, Rahul ji is looking after the organisational base to make it stronger. The result will be visible soon. The power politics, which has been followed for many years, is now nearing its end. Himachal Pradesh is a direct example.