Lok Sabha poll battle in Mandi Parliamentary constituency is nothing less than a ‘political conundrum’ with former Union minister Sukh Ram, his son and Bharatiya Janata Party minister Anil Sharma, and Congress candidate grandson Ashray Sharma taking the center stage. By switching over to the Congress from the BJP at the last minute, and managing a Lok Sabha ticket for his grandson, Sukh Ram has left the Mandi LS poll scenario confused — in BJP as well as in Congress.
Anil Sharma has cautiously chosen not to resign from the cabinet or BJP after his son got the Congress ticket. Sharma is not campaigning for BJP either, and says he will resign only if Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur asks him to.
Thakur, on the other hand, has left it to Sharma and says he should quit if he wants to campaign for his son and Congress candidate Ashray Sharma.
The BJP has fielded sitting MP Ram Swaroop Sharma, 60, from Mandi. He had defeated the then Congress CM’s wife and sitting MP Pratibha Singh in his first election in 2014 riding a strong ‘Modi wave’. It was construed then that former Union minister, who wields influence across the Parliamentary constituency, having represented it earlier, had tacitly supported Ram Swaroop despite being in Congress then.
“Both Anil Sharma and BJP leadership are calculating their own gain and loss in poll battle and are cautious in stance. If the party has to take action against Sharma, it can only be after the Lok Sabha poll,” said a senior BJP leader.
“The CM has clarified the party’s stand. It is upto Anil Sharma to show morality. The ball is in his court,”said BJP general secretary, Chander Mohan Thakur, when asked about the peculiar situation.
The BJP has been critical of Sukh Ram for his changing stance in 2019. Contrary to it, the senior politician and his son, Anil Sharma, who was cabinet minister in previous Congress government, were more than welcome in BJP just before the Assembly polls of 2017. The BJP then had chosen to ignore its own cadre and leaders to accommodate Anil Sharma on Mandi Assembly seat, just to cash in on Sukh Ram’s popularity on the whole.
Seemingly, Sukh Ram’s entry in Congress has not only sent the equations haywire in BJP this time, but in Congress too. The former Union minister being arch rival of former six-time CM, Virbhadra Singh for long, is so far unable to take Singh along to campaign for Ashray Sharma. Sukh Ram had met Virbhadra after his grandson got Congress ticket and Virbhadra had initially stated that ‘Sukh Ram’s entry would strengthen Congress’. However, later, Virbhadra referred to him as ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ and said he does not like such people.
Although Ashray is pinning hopes on Virbhadra’s campaign along with his grandfather’s base in Mandi Parliamentary constituency and said, “The Congress has always ousted BJP in political battle field, whenever Sukh Ram and Virbhadra Singh have come together.” The party rank and file are , however, apprehensive about Virbhadra’s role,
It pertinent to mention that after the telecom scam in mid 90s, former telecom minister, Sukh Ram had parted ways with Congress. Blaming Virbhadra for alleged conspiracy against him, he had floated a political outfit- Himachal Vikas Congress- holding the balance in his hands with five Assembly seats in 1998 Assembly polls, in tight number game between Congress and BJP. Sukh Ram’s HVC had then helped BJP form the government, ousting Congress from power. His party had, however, merged with Congress in 2004. Sukh Ram joined BJP in 2017, only to leave it in 2019.