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Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Arch rivals Congress veterans Virbhadra, Sukh Ram meet

The meeting between Sukh Ram and Virbhadra Singh is seen as the Congress high command’s effort to end rivalry between two stalwarts, that could mar party’s prospect in Lok Sabha elections from Mandi where chief minister Jai Ram Thakur’s personal prestige is at stake.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 30, 2019 13:55 IST
Gaurav Bisht
Gaurav Bisht
Hindustan Times, New Delhi / Shimla
lok sabha elections 2019,sukh ram,virbhadra singh
Former chief minister Virbhadra Singh and former union minister Sukh Ram met each other at New Delhi, on Friday, March 29 2019. (HT Photo )

A day after Congress central election committee huddled to decide tickets for Lok Sabha elections, old arch rivals former Union telecom minister Sukh Ram and Congress veteran Virbhadra Singh met in New Delhi on Friday.

Sukh Ram, 92, had been a bitter rival of Virbhadra Singh for decades. He did mend the broken chords with his old arch-rival, after retiring from electoral politics in 2004. But the old feud was back in the open.

However, in a new development, the meeting between the two senior leaders is seen as the party high command’s effort to end rivalrybetween two stalwarts, that could mar Congress’s prospect in Lok Sabha elections from Mandi where chief minister Jai Ram Thakur’s personal prestige is at stake.

The meeting also comes close on the heels of Sukhram re-joining the Congress recently along with his grandson, Ashray Sharma, who was declared the party’s candidate from the Mandi Lok Sabha seat later on Friday.

Former minister Sukh Ram created a flutter in Himachal Pradesh politics when he walked back to the Congress with his grandson, Ashray Sharma in tow, two days after the BJP denied the 32-year-old the ticket from Mandi Lok Sabha constituency.

According to sources, Sukh Ram sought Virbhadra’s blessing for his grandson ahead of Lok Sabha elections.

The rare meeting, which continued for 45 minutes, between old rivals took place at Virbhadra’s Greater Kailash residence in New Delhi.It was rare sight when the two shared a warm hug and exchanged pleasantries with each other. Virbhadra’s two lieutenants Congress legislature party leader Mukesh Agnihotri and former urban development minister Sudhir Sharma were also present at the meeting, which was held at party high command’s behest.

“It was a rare meeting between the two leaders. Virbhadra Singh is a respected leader in Congress. The two also talked about past political experiences,” said Ashray Sharma, who refused to divulge more details.

Ashray along with his father Anil Sharma, who is a cabinet minister in Jai Ram Thakur-led state government, and grandfather Sukh Ram had walked away from Congress ahead of 2017 assembly elections.

“Our family had always been with Congress. It was the circumstances that had forced us to switch sides. My grandfather always had the desire to return back to Congress” he said.

The two political heavyweights from Himachal Pradesh -- Virbhadra Singh and his bete noire Sukh Ram, started their political career together.

Sukh Ram, once close to former Prime Minister P V Narsimha Rao, was in race for chief Minister in 1992 when Congress registered a landslide victory gaining 52 seats in the assembly. However, after the party high command chose Virbhadra over Sukh Ram, the two have never left any stone unturned to pin down each other.

In 1996, the Central Bureau of Investigation raided house of then telecom minister Sukhram in Mandi and Delhi and recovered over Rs 3 crore. Sukh Ram later blamed Virbhadra Singh for the raids and accused him of keeping money in his house. Following his conviction in the telecom scam, Congress had sacked Sukhram in 1997.

Relations between the two ministers soured further in 1998 when Sukh Ram formed his own outfit Himachal Vikas Congress that helped the BJP strike an alliance in Himachal. The new outfit was later disbanded in 2004.

First Published: Mar 30, 2019 13:55 IST