‘This Election Is Between Imaandari Aur Beimaani’: Himachal Pradesh CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu in an exclusive interview with Outlook's Ashwani Sharma

Himachal Pradesh CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu during nomination filing rally of Congress candidate Vikramaditya Singh Photo: PTI

Earlier this year, Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu dramatically survived the Bharatiya Janata Party's bid to topple his 14-month old government, by skilfully engineering cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha election.

The development pushed the ruling party to an unprecedented turmoil that got further deepened by the resignation of young minister Vikramaditya Singh. Amidst intense struggle for power in the party, Sukhu exhibited a remarkable resilience. He managed to thwart an attempt to destabilise the Congress government -- the only one in the north.

The upcoming Lok Sabha elections and bypoll for six assembly constituencies present another challenge for him to remain in power. Ashwani Sharma of Outlook spoke to the Chief Minister on election scenes in the state, and things yet to unfold after the elections.

How strong (politically) is Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu and Congress government?

There is no threat to me or my government. The Congress had won 40 seats in 2022 assembly elections and formed its government. My rise to the chief ministerial post from a modest background was neither aimed to enjoy power nor to create my political empire. But, those whose politics simply bank on dishonesty, money bags and illegal mining etc joined hands with the BJP to dislodge a democratically elected regime. They (six disqualified MLAs) are facing the bypoll donning saffron scarfs. They betrayed the people who had elected them, even sold their conscience. They desecrated ‘dev-bhumi’ -- Himachal. I am asking the people to show them their place.

BJP says the government is in minority. It will meet its end on June 4— the day election results are out

Leader of opposition Jairam Thakur is a man in a hurry. He became Chief Minister in 2017 accidentally because BJP’s projected CM face Prem Kumar Dhumal lost the election. Thakur ‘sahib’ wants to be Chief Minister as he could not make it in the 2022 poll. Now, he has got a new ‘pant-coat’ stitched for his next oath. But, it will remain like this because the Congress government is not going to fall in any way .Even if the "sold" and disqualified MLAs win the bypoll, the majority will remain with Congress. 

BJP won the Rajya Sabha seat —a highly impossible task with just 25 MLAs in the 68-member House. Are you not over-confident?

No. I have my hand very much on the pulse of the people. They saw how the power—hungry BJP used undemocratic means to destabilise the Congress government. The BJP invested cash to buy MLAs but denied funds to the government. It (centre) starved the state of development grants. No special relief package was provided to us despite the biggest natural calamity. I courageously weathered the crisis and stood with affected families. We raised money through CM’s relief fund for relief. I also donated all savings of my life to this fund. The state government sanctioned Rs 4,500 crore package for the disaster hit areas. The government reached-out to every affected family. The people admire my simplicity and honesty.

What is the broader narrative in the elections. This is the first Lok Sabha election which you are leading as CM

As far as I am concerned, this election is between Imaandari aur beimaani (Honesty and dishonesty). The BJP had opened its doors to MLAs (rebels) who sold their conscience. It was sheer dishonesty. They were paid handsome money for cross-voting and thereafter when they lost their memberships due to disqualifications, the BJP sheepishly admitted them in the party. And, thereafter gave tickets to them for bypolls ignoring rightful claims of their own party (cadre) leaders. Alternatively, the Congress has given tickets to those enjoying a clean image in the public. We opposed tickets to BJP turn-coats.

The BJP says the Chief Minister is himself responsible for MLAs revolt and they don’t need to do any “operation lotus”

I know exactly who did what to destabilise the government. It was a BJP- tailored script. The rebel MLAs were holding secret meetings with BJP leadership regularly. The only grouse these disgruntled MLAs against me was that I did not make them ministers. Two MLAs—Sudhir Sharma and Rajendra Rana were the main actors. They hooked the rest of the lot ahead of the Rajya Sabha poll for cross-voting, thinking that either the government will collapse or the congress will change Sukhu. Destiny was on my side. I survived the attempt. My government will last its full term.

Vikramaditya Singh had also resigned after cross-voting and yet he got ticket from Mandi

I don't want to pass any judgement on why he resigned from the cabinet. But, the fact remains that I gave him an important portfolio in the cabinet and an opportunity to work as a key member of the government. There was no problem from my side. He withdrew the resignation the next day realising the mistake. Now that Pratibha Singh, sitting MP and PCC president, had declined to contest Mandi, Vikramaditya  was the next most suitable candidate with very high chances to retain this seat, and defeat BJP's film celebrity Kangana Ranaut


The BJP says it will achieve a hat-trick, after having won all four seats in 2014 and 2019 due to the Modi factor

 Saavn ke Andhe ko hara hi dikhata hai (A blind person sees only greenery in monsoon season). Nevertheless, the Congress will be giving a tough fight to the BJP on all four Parliamentary seats. We had won Mandi in the 2021 bypoll and will surely retain. We will gain at least one or two more seats.

The BJP has brought in Kangana Ranaut, a ‘Hinduvta’ face in the Mandi battle. Are you not worried ?

Kangana Ranaut is Bollywood's successful actress. She is Himachal ki beti and has made the state proud. Because Jairam Thakur was reluctant to contest the Lok Sabha for some reasons, he proposed Kangana's name. Poor girl is struggling to fit into new role under Jairam's 'directorial venture'. But, politics is not everyone's cup of tea. So, let her give it a try. Her ‘Hindutva’ face will not help her much on the ground.