Much as the mainstream media seems to be underplaying it, the Congress party's decision to anoint Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu as the new Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh is all set to have long term ramifications both in the state as well as the national level. The choice has the potential to debunk several narratives being used by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Congress won 40 of the total 68 Assembly seats in the polls held on November 12, the results to which were declared on December 8. As expected, it was a closely contested election with the winning margins being very low in some of the seats.

While it is being largely propagated that the people of Himachal Pradesh have continued with the 'Rivaaz' (tradition) of electing alternative governments, a trend that goes back to more than three decades, the political messages that are emanating from this hill state are stronger.

To begin with, Sukhu's choice as the leader of the new House goes to debunk the BJP narrative of the Congress favouring dynastic politics. That the BJP has itself indulged in dynastic politics both in Himachal as well as elsewhere is another matter.

Sukhu has been chosen over the contention made by Pratibha Singh, the Lok Sabha member from the all-important Mandi parliamentary constituency. Pratibha is the wife of former CM Virbhadra Singh who passed away last year. Apart from being one of the most powerful political leaders from this hill state having a pan Himachal presence, Virbhadra was also the scion of the erstwhile kingdom of Rampur Bushahr.

On the contrary Sukhu comes from a humble background. His father Rashil Singh was a driver in the Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation (HRTC) and his mother Sansar Dei is a homemaker who still lives in their native Sera village of Nadaun in Hamirpur district of the state.

He pursued his legal studies from the Himachal Pradesh University in Shimla.

Politically, he has risen through the ranks having worked tirelessly at the grassroot level. This debunks another narrative based on the several past examples where the Congress preferred parachute candidates to head the government while ignoring who had a greater mass base. "This time around Sukhu had the majority of the MLAs, 21 to be precise, backing him," said a Congress insider.

This reporter can recall Sukhu working with dedication as the state president of the National Students' Union of India (NSUI), the student wing of the Congress. Irrespective of the fact that the campuses of the Himachal Pradesh University and the colleges affiliated to it were largely bastions of the Left in the 1980s and also till late, Sukhu was always seen working tirelessly to organise NSUI events. He garnered support among the youth for the Congress programmes and established himself as a mass leader ready to help anyone with the works in the various government offices. Referred to as "Pradhanji' by his followers, he could be seen in the most unlikely of places in Shimla carrying out his political activities.

The Congress insiders say that it was a politically wise step to persuade Pratibha to take a step back in favour of Sukhu as there was no point in risking two by-polls with a potential danger of rocking the party boat in the state where it has been going steady over the last one year. "Had the party chosen Pratibha, it would have meant a Lok Sabha by-poll on the Mandi seat and the party with an already meagre number of seats in the lower house of the Parliament is not in a position to afford such an adventure.

"Then it would have meant a Congress MLA vacating a seat in her favour and yet another by-poll. It was Pratibha's win in the Mandi Parliamentary by-poll last year along with three Assembly by-polls that had set the ball rolling for the Congress. One needs to recall that the Congress had lost the Mandi Lok Sabha seat by a margin of over four lakh votes in 2019. Pratibha had not only climbed this massive vote difference but had secured a victory," said a Sukhu supporter from within the party.

Another important message going out from Himachal is about senior leader Priyanka Gandhi leading a victorious charge. Priyanka was running the Congress show in the run up to the polls, and she has emerged as a strong leader. Her strategy of not launching any personal attack on PM Narendra Modi, and focusing on the state specific issues alone instead of getting trapped in the national level narratives being played by the BJP has worked.

Yet another important political signal coming from the state is the outgoing Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur emerging tall as a politician having won nine of the ten seats on his home turf of Mandi district. Thakur has won his own Seraj seat with the highest recorded margin of more than 38,000 votes in the state Assembly polls till now. This indicates that Mandi remains a power centre as far as the BJP is concerned.

Meanwhile, Sukhu's anointment from Nadaun in Hamirpur district also signals a shift in the Congress power centre. Till now, all the Congress chief ministers including Dr Yashwant Singh Parmar, Thakur Ram Lal and Virbhadra Singh had come from Sirmour and Shimla districts normally referred to as upper Himachal while the BJP had in the past given Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal from Kangra and Hamirpur that are referred to as lower Himachal.

Observers say that Sukhu coming as a CM from Dhumal's turf is going to make Hamirpur district a political hotbed. Dhumal's son and Union Minister Anurag Thakur is a sitting Lok Sabha member from this Parliamentary constituency. In the recently concluded elections Dhumal and his loyalists were largely sidelined as far as distribution of tickets went. Dhumal has been eyeing a larger role for his son in the state politics in the days to come.

Himachal is also the home turf of BJP's national president Jagat Prakash Nadda. There is definitely a BJP potboiler in the offing in the state in the days to come.

Everything now leads to the 2024 Parliamentary polls and Sukhu has given an indication of the same right from the word go. On Monday, he said that the state government would take up the matter of restoring the foundation stone plaque of Atal Tunnel laid by Sonia Gandhi in the capacity as Chairperson of National Advisory Council on June 28, 2010.

He said the plaque of the foundation stone was missing which was an 'insult to democracy' and must be restored at the earliest. He said that the 9.02 kilometer tunnel was built by the Border Road Organisation to connect landlocked Lahaul-Spiti district.