Congress veteran Virbhadra Singh was sworn in as the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh for the record sixth time at the Ridge here on Tuesday, amid a boycott of the ceremony by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Governor Urmila Singh administered the oath of office and secrecy to Virbhadra, the 78-year-old former king of the erstwhile princely state of Rampur-Bushahr.
Virbhadra - who had first become CM on April 8, 1983, replacing Thakur Ram Lal -- was picked as leader of the 36-member Congress Legislature Party (CLP) by the party's national president Sonia Gandhi on December 22.
Breaking with tradition, nine ministers too were sworn in after Virbhadra. Led by the 85-year-old former CM Vidya Stokes, those who took the oath included former state Congress president Kaul Singh Thakur, former transport minister GS Bali, Sujan Singh Pathania, Thakur Singh Bharmouri, Mukesh Agnihotri, Sudhir Sharma, Prakash Chaudhary and Dhani Ram Shandil. Later in the evening, Virbhadra administered oath to three MLAs -- Neeraj Bharti, Rajesh Dharmani and Vinay Kumar -- as chief parliamentary secretaries.
Before the CM and his ministers' swearing-in began at 10.45am, Virbhadra and his family made their way from their house Holy Lodge to the venue along with thousands of supporters who were donning his trademark green Bushahri caps and dancing to the beat of traditional drums. Four large display screens at different places in the town streamed the ceremony as it happened.
Birendar Singh, general secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and in-charge of Himachal affairs, and AICC secretary Anees Ahmed were among those present. Maheshwar Singh, president of the Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP), was in attendance, though the defeated BJP did not send any representative.
After taking oath, Virbhadra drove straight to the state secretariat to assume office. Chief secretary Sudripta Roy and other senior officers felicitated him, as hundreds of people gathered to welcome him there too.
In his five-decade-long political innings, Virbhadra has been a seven-time MLA and a five-time MP. He has also been a four-time president of the Himachal Congress and currently also represents Mandi seat in the Lok Sabha. He has to resign from the Lok Sabha within six months, as he is now an MLA too.
Dressed for occasion: Virbhadra and all the ministers took oath in Hindi, but Thakur Singh Bharmouri attracted special attention as he wore traditional Gaddi attire.
No love lost: Virbhadra and his rival within the party, Kaul Singh Thakur, embraced each other on the dais, though many in the crowd raised slogans in favour of Virbhadra when Kaul Singh was invited to take oath.
Evading arrest: At least two Congress MLAs were not present, including Ram Kumar, who is apparently evading arrest in a case of murder registered at Panchkula, Haryana.