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Sukh Ram, who once helped Dhumal form government, is no stranger to BJP

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Sukh Ram launched his own party after being expelled from Congress following his conviction in a telecom scam, now his son joins BJP in poll-bound Himachal

Chandigarh: With weeks to go for the assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP has opened its doors to Anil Sharma, son of veteran Congress leader and former Union minister Sukh Ram, who was convicted and jailed in the country’s first telecom scam.

Sharma, a cabinet minister in the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government, who joined the BJP two days ago, claims that he and his family were being “ignored” in the Congress and the last straw was not being given due attention during Rahul Gandhi’s recent rally in Mandi.

A bitter rival of Virbhadra Singh for decades, Sukh Ram, 92, had patched up with him after retiring from electoral politics in 2004 but the old feud is back and out in the open. Reacting to the latest development, the chief minister said he was not “surprised”.

“He (Sukh Ram) is the original aaya ram gaya ram in politics,” said Singh.

The Sukh Ram family and the BJP are no strangers. After being thrown out of the Congress in 1997 following the telecom scam, Sukh Ram launched his own party — Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) — that won five seats in the 1998 assembly polls. It helped the BJP, which was short of a majority, form the government under Prem Kumar Dhumal. Later, in 2004, the HVC merged with the Congress.

A Brahmin mass leader in his own right, Sukh Ram remained a serious contender for the CM’s position for years. But as the Brahmin versus Rajput politics played out in the hill state, Sukh Ram shifted to the Lok Sabha in 1984 and Virbhadra took centre stage in the state.

“My only fault is that I am Sukh Ramji’s son. I was told that Raja Sahib (Virbhadra Singh) cut my father’s name from the list of invitees for Rahul Gandhi’s rally in Mandi. It (Mandi) is our area and to ignore Panditji (Sukh Ram) is unacceptable,” Anil Sharma told ThePrint.

Mandi district is Sukh Ram’s traditional stronghold and his family has considerable influence over the assembly seats in the region.

“I have been promised ticket from this seat by the BJP in the forthcoming elections,” added Sharma.

Incidentally, some Bollywood stars are likely to campaign for him. His son Aayush is married to Salman Khan’s adopted sister Arpita Khan. While Aayush is said to be all set to make his debut in Bollywood, Sharma’s other son, Ashray, is expected to be his political heir.

Kings of Mandi

An old Congress war horse, Sukh Ram held the Mandi assembly seat in four elections, from 1967 till 1984, when he was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Mandi parliamentary constituency.

The Congress managed to retain the seat in the next assembly elections in 1985 but the BJP wrested it in 1990. Three years later when assembly polls were announced again, Anil Sharma got the seat back into the family.

Sharma remained a minister of state in the Virbhadra cabinet from 1993 to 1996. His stint was cut short by the turbulence in his father’s career.

Sukh Ram lost the parliamentary seat in 1989 only to win it back in 1991 and was made the telecom minister in P.V. Narasimha Rao’s cabinet. Despite serious allegations of corruption against him in 1995, Sukh Ram managed to make it to Parliament again in 1996 from the same seat.

Mother of all scams

In 1995, he came under fire for favouring a handful of companies in awarding contracts, pocketing hefty bribes in the process. In August 1996, the CBI raided Sukh Ram’s official residence and found Rs 2.45 crore of unaccounted cash. Another Rs 1.16 crore was seized from his ancestral home in Mandi.

In September 1996, in a midnight drama, Sukh Ram was arrested on his return to India from London. Two more raids led the CBI to more cash that had been stashed away.

Sukh Ram was convicted in three separate cases and awarded sentences of two, three and five years, running concurrently. He was later granted bail on health grounds.

The patch-up

In the 2003 assembly polls, Sukhram’s HVC managed to get only one seat: his own in Mandi. Ahead of 2004 Lok Sabha polls, he merged HVC with the Congress making peace with Virbhadra. Virbhadra’s wife Pratibha Singh was the candidate from Mandi and he needed Sukh Ram on his side.

Anil Sharma went on to win the Mandi assembly seat consecutively in 2007 and 2012 as a Congress candidate. However, his relationship with Virbhadra has been anything but cordial in the past decade. In 2012, he was the last minister to be inducted into Virbhadra’s cabinet following protests against his inclusion from within the party.

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