Sukhu's Trump Card In Upcoming Himachal Bypolls: 'Bhabhi' Kamlesh Thakur Set To Contest

The Congress has decided to field Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh's wife Kamlesh Thakur, 54, from Dehra assembly constituency in the July bypolls in Himachal Pradesh.

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Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu interacting with local people in Nadaun Photo: Getty Images

Hardly had the dust settled on Himachal Pradesh’s political landscape, battered by the unusual heatwave and the Congress MLA’s rebellion early this year, Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu surprised the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and his party detractors. With three bypolls to be held on July 10, the Congress has decided to field Kamlesh Thakur, 54, Sukhu’s wife for the Dehra assembly constituency.

The bypolls for Hamirpur, Nalagarh and Dehra have been necessitated due to the resignations of three independents after cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha elections in February 2024, who thereafter joined the BJP, along with six disqualified Congress MLAs, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections this year. Only two of them have got re-elected on BJP tickets while four lost their seats. It’s now the turn of the independents to fight for their electoral fortunes from the BJP’s pitch.

But, Sukhu having strengthened his position already by winning four assembly seats, the Congress tally in the assembly has increased to 38 in the 68-member House. The Congress will be fighting the bypolls primarily to consolidate its political strength and to keep the BJP under check against attempts to topple his government.

It is in this spirit that he favoured the entry of Thakur in politics through the electoral route of Dehra, which is her birthplace.

Sukhu says, “I was not willing that my wife should contest the elections. Even during the Lok Sabha polls, the party high command told me to field her from Hamirpur, but I refused. This time again, when the high command asked me, I could not say no.”

He says that winning Dehra—where the party has not been able to get a foothold since 1998—is the party’s acid test this time as Thakur belongs to Dehra.

“My constituency Nadaun also borders Dehra. Some of the surveys done by the party also strongly weighed in her favour,” he told Outlook.

This is not the first time when a sitting chief minister has backed his wife to fight for a seat in the state assembly. Earlier, the wife of the then Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, Pratibha Singh contested from the Mandi Lok Sabha constituency in 2004.

Relatively a private person, Thakur has never been in the spotlight, except managing her husband’s campaign behind the scenes, looking after the household and bringing up two daughters.

She is pitted against Hoshyar Singh, a two-time independent MLA, who is now the BJP’s candidate. Asked how she sees her prospects in her maiden electoral battle against a two-time MLA―in a constituency which the Congress has never won since 1998―Kamlesh Thakur says, “Well, it’s up to the people to make a choice as to who can meet their expectations and provide new wings of development to the constituency. I and my husband will definitely make a difference.”

Thakur contesting the bypoll has also sparked a political debate as to how long the Congress can promote dynastic politics. There are already signs of an open rebellion in the party as Rajesh Sharma, a the Congress’ state treasurer, who had unsuccessfully contested the election against Hoshyar Singh in 2022, has accused Chief Minister Sukhu of betrayal; he says he was promised a ticket and was already campaigning in the area.

“It is proven, the family comes first for Sukhu, who kept me hostage for nine hours at his residence and pressured me to support Thakur in the constituency. If he died, an unnatural or natural death, only CM Sukhu should be held responsible,” he declared on reaching Dehra. He was earlier hospitalised following a panic attack. Sharma has announced that he will contest as an independent.

Thakur, however, says: “Sharma is like my brother, I will convince him to support me, instead of fighting the election.” She has already announced a slogan, “daughter of Dehra”.

The BJP was quick to encash on the political drama taking place in Dehra by visiting Sharma in the hospital and criticising the Congress for ignoring his claim. However Sukhu loyalist, Satpal Raizada, who was the Congress candidate against BJP’s Anurag Thakur in Hamirpur, accused Sharma of creating emotional scenes to get sympathy of the people.

BJP candidate Hoshyar Singh mocked the decision: “Kamlesh Thakur’s candidacy is an insult to local women and an example of dynastic politics.”

With critics labelling this as nepotism, supporters of Sukhu are enthusiastic claiming that “Bhabhi” will be a strong representative of the constituency. “Her entry into politics marks a significant departure from her previous role, primarily as the spouse of a politician,” says Amarjeet Singh Raina, a Sukhu lieutenant. He says Sukhu has made it clear that in the next assembly election, only one of two (he or his wife) will contest the assembly poll. Her candidature is just a response to the situation and ensures that the Congress position is strengthened in Dehra—which is part of Anurag Thakur’s parliamentary constituency, though falls in Kangra.

Many believe that Sukhu’s decision to field his wife in the bypoll reflects a strategic manoeuvre after he had faced a BJP bid to topple his government and the rebellion of six MLAs, despite the Congress having won 40 seats in 2022 poll against 25 of the BJP. After the disqualification of the six rebels, the Congress’ strength had dropped to 34, but now it has increased to 38.

But Sukhu is seeing the Dehra bypoll as an opportunity to improve the party’s presence in the state because of Kangra’s political significance―it is the biggest district in the state with 15 assembly seats. The Congress had won 10 seats in Kangra. The number got reduced to nine following the election of BJP’s Sudhir Sharma from Dharamshala.


In such a situation, Sukhu would like to take the party’s tally 10 ten by winning this seat. It will be equally challenging for the BJP to improve its tally and bring it to six.

Two other bypolls are happening in Nalagarh, Solan district, and Hamirpur in CM’s home district. The Congress has fielded Hardeep Singh Bawa and Pushpendra Verma from Nalagarh and Hamirpur respectively.