It is 8am and the residence of Venod Sharma, millionaire-industrialist and president of the Haryana Jan Chetna Party, is packed with his supporters. Like other days, breakfast and tea are served to the visitors at the leader’s Model Town residence in Ambala City.
At the breakfast table on the first floor, Sharma takes assessment of the constituency which he represented for two consecutive terms as a Congress leader, winning in 2005 and 2009. A few rooms have “entry restricted” notes pasted on the door.
As the leader steps down, he first wants to make sure that all present at his house have taken breakfast. Dressed in the traditional political outfit of white kurta-pajama and a pair of slippers, he gets his SUV ready at 8.30.
As he steps out of the house, a small group raising slogans in support of Sharma accompany with a dholi (drum-player), rush towards their leader and offer his garlands.
Sharma positions himself in the rear seat of the SUV; his supporters once again move closer and whisper to give their personal feedback on the electoral position.
One of them comes with a complaint against a key supporter from a nearby village but Sharma assures him to look into it and appeals to him to work for him in the elections. “Shabash, lage raho! Yeh aapka chunav hai. Bas khayal rakho jeetne ka (Buck up, this is your election. Just ensure victory),” he tells all the visitors patiently.
As the convoy reaches Bulana village on Hisar Road, dozens of motorbikes join Sharma’s convoy, already an hour late.
Addressing the gathering at Balmiki Chaupal, Sharma promises development and employment if the HJCP and Haryana Janhit Congress are voted to power.
During his address, a villager starts making sarcastic comments on the political developments in the state. Sharma does not interrupt the villager and laughs heartily.
A former Union leader minister, Sharma, who recently ended his four-decade association with the Congress, reminds the gathering of his election symbol, an “LPG gas cylinder”.
He adds: “2005 se do baar imtihan diya hai maine. Mere kiye kaam dekh lena halke mein, aur pass kar dena (I have appeared in the exam twice. You must see the work I have done and ensure I pass).” He adds, towards the women: “Behna, kitne number dogi muhje? (Sister, how many marks will you give me?)”
Lauding his team’s efforts in convincing two influential local families to “have faith” in Sharma, he readies to meet them personally. “Par khayal rakhna, yeh aakhri din bade important hain (But remember, the last few days are important),” he tells his young team who keep in updated about similar “success stories”.
Soon, scores of youth riding on 6-7 tractors join the convoy as it reaches the house of Baljinder Singh, the latest influential “catch”, a landlord who has “shown faith” in the leader.
Gauging the gathering, Sharma chooses Punjabi or Hindi language for his brief speeches, contents of which remain almost the same.
While moving towards Saunda, another village on the outskirts of Ambala City, Sharma waives at people and get an immediate response from them.
Addressing another gathering, he assures to revive the Industrial Model Town (IMT) for Ambala, the proposal which was scrapped by the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government due to pressure from within the Congress.
IMT, Selja and Hooda
He tells HT that Congress leaders like Selja and Ahir leader Capt Ajay Yadav’s son Chiranjeevi were instrumental in opposing the IMT. “These people did not want north Haryana to progress, and instigated a section of villagers against the land acquisition. Even the state government bowed to undue pressure of leaders from south Haryana,” he says, carefully not mentioning the name of his childhood friend and chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
When asked if he misses Hooda in the election time where he was struggling to maintain his political significance, he says, “It is not a question of missing him or the party for which I worked my entire life. Despite having personal bonding with Hooda, I maintain my own stand in politics and on the neglect of north Haryana by governments.”
Sharma says it was a “media misnomer” that he was ‘number two’ in the Hooda regime. “But it is a fact I had a firm say in the government. That ended by 2006. Had I been so powerful in the Hooda government, the Ambala IMT would have never been scrapped,” he adds.
Dev Anand fan
On what keeps him going personally, he shares, “I am huge fan of Dev Anand movies, but these days I do not play music in my car as it distracts me. Taking missi roti with sabzi and lassi, I skip regular lunch to keep myself fit for these hectic days.”
Sharma says he is also touring Kalka from where his wife Shakti Rani is contesting, and other constituencies along with ally HJC chief Kuldeep Bishnoi.
“My son Kartikeya Sharma is into diversified business and has no interest in politics. In fact, he is not even campaigning with us,” says Sharma, while expressing relief that none of his political opponents had raised the issue of his younger son Manu Sharma, who is serving life term in the Jessica Lall murder case.
Travel: Venod Sharma prefers traveling in a Toyota Fortuner in Ambala City and Kalka from where his wife Shakti Rani is contesting. Used chopper on couple of occasions while touring with his ally HJC chief Kuldeep Bishnoi.
Sartorial statement: Wears white, half-sleeve kurta-payjama and pair of slippers.
Kin factor: Daughter Prachi, a doctor by profession, campaigns for him at Ambala City. Businessman son Kartikeya “not interested in politics”. Sharma is happy no opposing leader mentions other son Manu, serving life term in murder case.