Who Is Pratibha Singh, The Congress Candidate Up Against Kangana Ranaut at Mandi?

A gritty woman politician’s political journey deeply intertwined with Virbhadra, his legacy


A rural woman welcomes Congress candidate Pratibha Singh (L) on her arrival in Kullu Photo: PTI

From a low-profile home-maker at ‘Holly-Lodge’—Virbhadra Singh’s private bungalow, to a gritty woman politician, Pratibha Singh’s political journey, has been deeply intertwined with her late husband—a six time Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh.

But, will the upcoming Lok Sabha elections make her chart her own course amidst simmering sense of ‘denial’ is a larger question, with Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu—her political rival who is in command at least for now.

The 68-year-old, Pratibha Singh, a mother of two, is a three-time MP from Mandi and will be facing Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, the BJP candidate, in the seventh-phase of the Lok Sabha elections, slated for June 1.


“Kangana Ranaut is a surprise entry to Mandi contest. I thought it could be former Chief Minister Jairam Thakur,” she said in her first reaction after she got mellowed down by the party to contest, after her initial stance against contesting the seat.

It was after party’s state coordination committee meeting held at Chandigarh in presence of AICC incharge Rajeev Shukla and Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, she agreed to be the candidate for her sixth election in Mandi, two of which, she had lost in 1998 and 2014.

Born on June 16, 1956, is an influential family of ‘Junga’—an erstwhile royal state, she entered the ‘Holly-lodge’ in 1985 as Virbhadra Singh’s second wife, and had mostly been looking after home diligently and soberly till she formally became a member of the block congress at Rampur – Virbhadra’s native town and eventually assumed a political role, under the mentorship of her husband. Virbhadra Singh dominated politics for almost six decades. 


In one of her interviews during 2022 assembly elections, the PCC president— who was also a Chief Ministerial post claimant, admitted that “raja sahib” (her husband) was opposed to her entry to the politics yet it was due to pressures from the party men and workers, he relented and fielded her from Mandi—a constituency, he himself had presented in 1971 and later also for three-times. She, however, lost to BJP’s Maheshwar Singh, a party senior and scion of Kullu’s royalty in 1998. She later got elected to the Parliament from Mandi in 2004 and also in 2013 but lost in 2014 to BJP's Ram Swaroop Sharma.

The 2021 Mandi bypoll, which she won primarily on sympathy factor following Virbhadra Singh’s demise, proved a turning point in her political career that remained overshadowed by her late husband's towering legacy and mass contact earlier to this.

The Congress found an opportunity to encash Virbhadra Singh’s name in the 2022 state assembly poll and made PCC president at the time when the party was torn in factions. Split in different camps, the Congress had at least seven aspirants eyeing the Chief Ministerial post.

Even as the race later narrowed down to three—Pratibha Singh, Sukhwinder Sukhu and Mukesh Agnihotri (now Dy Chief Minister)  her “legacy” card did not pay off for two reasons—she did not contest assembly poll, and majority of Virbhadra Singh loyalists either had turned to Sukhu or some preferring Agnihotri over her. 


She, eventually decided to exit from the Chief Ministerial race yet after unsavoury scenes when her supporters staged protests in her favour outside meeting of the newly elected MLAs.

Next option was to ask for “honourable” position—a deputy Chief Ministerial slot for son Vikramaditya Singh—a two-time MLA but this too was not conceded by the party, especially Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi, who had thrown their weight behind Sukhu.

The political crisis rising out of cross-voting in February 27 Rajya Sabha election, was an opportunity for mother-son duo to arm-twist Sukhu and his Congress mentors in Delhi. Vikramaditya Singh resigned his cabinet post. Pratibha Singh blamed it on Chief Minister's style of working and termed the crisis result of systematic sidelining and ignoring the party voices, also a sense of denial to Virbhadra Singh family, his legacy.


Speculations were rife about Son (Vikramaditya) and her mending fences with the BJP and revolt in order to build pressures on the high command for a leadership change. Disqualification of six Congress rebels by Speaker Kuldeep Pathania—as a step to save the government, did not go well with her.

During a political crisis, she praised the work of the opposition BJP, causing consternation within her own party and facing a backlash

In their report submitted to the high command, the central observers – Karnataka Deputy CM D K Shivakumar and former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupendra Singh Hood had termed her role, alongwith Son Vikramaditya Singh, not free from ‘suspicions’.


Last week, Pratibha Singh created a flutter in the trouble-torn Congress announcing that she will not contest Mandi Lok Sabha seat since conditions are not favourable, workers’ inactive  and demoralised. This was also seen as step to corner Sukhu for not acknowledging her role as PCC president.

She said “we are on weak footing there. I urged him (CM) again and again that we need to strengthen and the party needs to be organized...I can say that it is a difficult time. Conditions are not favourable.”

Nevertheless, her next election from Mandi remains quite crucial for Pratibha Singh’s coming-up as a key figure in the state's political landscape, with potential for future leadership roles. She has to carve her own path amidst waning clout of ‘Holly-Lodge’ and intra-party dynamics in the state beyond Virbhadra Singh's era.