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In battle between children of two stalwarts, Sukh Ram at centre stage in Himachal

Sukhram’s son Anil Sharma pitted against Kaul Singh’s daughter Champa Thakur

assembly elections Updated: Nov 03, 2017 13:16 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Mandi
Himachal Pradesh Assembly election 2017,Himachal assembly polls 2017,Prem Kumar Dhumal
Former Union minister Sukh Ram at his residence in Mandi on Thursday.(Anil Dayal/HT)

Famous as 'Chotti Kashi' because of the presence of a large number of temples, the Mandi Sadar constituency is bracing for a high voltage contest between the children of two old rivals and political stalwarts of Himachal Pradesh—Pandit Sukh Ram and Thakur Kaul Singh.

Sukh Ram's son Anil Sharma, who had won the seat on a Congress ticket in 2012, and is now contesting on a BJP ticket after joining the party a few days ago; whereas Kaul Singh's daughter Champa Thakur is the Congress candidate from the seat.

Ever since 1963 when Sukh Ram won from the constituency for the first time, Mandi Sadar assembly constituency has remained a citadel of Sukh Ram and his family, except from the period between 1990 and 1992 when BJP candidate Kanhiya Lal won the seat and but the BJP government could run for only two and half years.

Even after Sukh Ram parted ways with the Congress in 1998, the seat was never won by any other person outside the family.

A former Union telecom minister, Sukh Ram, who is widely known as ‘Pandit Ji’, enjoys popularity despite being a convict in a corruption case. His son Anil Sharma, a Panchayati Raj minister in the Virbhadra government till he joined BJP,is contesting the seat on his father's name.

Such is the involvement of Sukh Ram in the seat that even at an age of 92, he holds meetings with party workers and is the key strategist for his son’s campaign.

Anil Sharma too has made his father Sukh Ram’s “insult” by chief minister Virbhadra Singh as the main poll plank rather than listing the development activities carried out by him as an MLA.

Elaborating on the ‘insult’, Sukh Ram says, “When Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi came to Mandi to address a rally a few days before the model code of conduct came into force, chief minister Virbhadra Singh insulted me and did not allow me to share the dias with him. My son was also not involved properly in preparations of the rally. I am involved in these polls because it’s a fight for my self-respect; Virbhadra, by doing so, has not only insulted me but people of my constituency as well, who loves me more than my family.”

His son is also seeking votes for the pride of his father.

“Even if the Congress would have made me the Congress candidate, Virbhadra and his few loyalists had already planned to field Champa Thakur as an Independent candidate to ensure my defeat. Since Virbhadra has an old enmity with my father, he is planning is to ensure my defeat,” said Anil Sharma, while interacting with his supporters in Mandi City.

On the other side, Champa, a zila parishad chief for Mandi district and a firebrand woman leader, is harping on her connect with the people of the constituency, citing that as she has represented two different zila parishad segments in the constituency.

The constituency has 36 villages, whereas the rest of the voters are from the city.

“This constituency is not a Sukh Ram stronghold. He and his family won this seat many times because it’s a Congress bastion,” said Champa, whose has adopted an aggressive campaigning style.

She has made Anil Sharma’s sudden switch to BJP as the main poll issue, “I have carried out a few developmental activities, which should have been done by representatives. However, the biggest thing is the loyalty, Pandit Ji and his son have been shifting their loyalty time and again, and now again they have deserted the Congress. The party is like a mother for any political leader, those who can cheat a mother, they can cheat you anytime,” said Champa, while addressing Nukkad meeting at village Kotli.

Her father, Kaul Singh is a seven-time MLA from nearby Darang segment and is not involved in the campaigning for her daughter.

Silence among Congress and BJP voters worry for Sukh Ram’s son

As a Congress MLA, Anil Sharma was the main target of the BJP in Mandi Sadar segment and the party had also listed him as a tainted minister in the party’s chargesheet submitted to the governor last year. His sudden switch to the BJP has disappointed the grassroots workers in the segment. Even as most of the claimants for the BJP ticket have already extended their support to Sharma but the absence of grassroots workers in Sharma’s campaigning has made the poll scenario to watch out for.

First Published: Nov 03, 2017 13:10 IST