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Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Sukh Ram’s return to Congress won’t help grandson’s prospects

Though the latest move by Sukh Ram is unlikely to affect the political scenario in Mandi, it has catapulted him into yet another controversy.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 26, 2019 15:29 IST
Naresh K Thakur
Naresh K Thakur
Hindustan Times, Dharamshala
lok sabha elections 2019,sukh ram joins congress,ahray sharma joins congress
Former union minister Sukh Ram Sharma with Congress president Rahul Gandhi at Delhi, on Monday, March 25 2019. (HT Photo )

At 91, former Union telecom 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.

The BJP tried downplaying their joining the Congress, while Sukh Ram’s son Anil Sharma, who is the power minister in Jai Ram Thakur’s cabinet, offered to step down on moral grounds.

Though the latest move by Sukh Ram or Pandit ji, as he is popularly known, is unlikely to affect the political scenario in Mandi, it has catapulted him into yet another controversy.

Man of the moment

Born in a poor family on July 27, 1927, Sukh Ram graduated from Delhi Law College. After a few months of practice at the Mandi district courts, he joined the town’s civic body as a clerk. In the early ’60s, a district magistrate found irregularities in the municipal committee’s functioning that led to Sukh Ram’s exit.

A by-election to the Mandi assembly seat was due in 1963 and Sukh Ram contested, projecting himself as the champion of the poor. In 1967, he was re-elected on a Congress ticket. He represented Mandi in the assembly till 1984 when he shifted focus to the Lok Sabha.

During his tenure in Himachal politics, he was state taxation and excise minister and was charged with illegal recruitments and land encroachment besides unauthorised tree felling. Amid the anti-Congress wave, Sukh Ram lost from Mandi only to win it back in 1991.

Scam, ouster and comeback

In 1995, when he was the Union telecom minister, Sukh Ram was charged with taking bribes to favour a few companies in the award of contracts. A CBI raid on his official residence led to the recovery of Rs 2.45 crore of unaccounted cash and another Rs 1.16 crore from his house in Mandi. He, however, blamed his rival and former chief minister Virbhadra Singh for the episode.

He was away in London and was arrested on his return. The scam led to his ouster from the Congress and he was sentenced to five-year jail in 2011 but was granted bail on health grounds.

Sukh Ram staged a comeback in state politics with the launch of the Himachal Vikas Congress in 1997. It won five seats in the 1998 assembly elections. In a post-poll alliance, he helped the BJP form a government led by Prem Kumar Dhumal. In lieu, the BJP sent his son, Anil Sharma, to the Rajya Sabha.

In BJP and back to Congress

In the 2003 assembly elections, Sukh Ram’s HVC managed to get only one seat, his own in Mandi. Before the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, he merged the HVC with the Congress, making peace with Virbhadra Singh. While Sukh Ram retired from active politics, Anil Sharma won the Mandi seat in 2007 and 2012 and was a minister in the Virbhadra government. Anil won the seat for the first time in the 1993 assembly election when his father was a member of Parliament.

Just before the 2017 assembly election, Sukh Ram and his son joined the BJP after being snubbed by Virbhadra during Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s rally in Mandi. Anil won from Mandi on a BJP ticket and became a minister in the Jai Ram Thakur government.

Political analysts say Sukh Ram’s joining the Congress at this stage is unlikely to impact the poll scenario. “Given his stature, Sukh Ram may have some influence in Mandi town but not beyond,” says Pryabhishek Sharma, a political observer. “Electors in Himachal vote on issues of national interest than local,” he says, adding, “Sukh Ram’s time in politics is over.”

First Published: Mar 26, 2019 15:29 IST

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