Congress party’s move to field former Union Minister Sukh Ram’s grandson Ashray Sharma from the Mandi Lok Sabha seat in Himachal Pradesh has turned around political chemistry in the biggest and toughest Parliamentary constituency in the state.

Senior leader Sukh Ram’s last-minute reunion with Congress, along with Ashray, preceded by switchover of his son Anil Sharma from Congress to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2017 Assembly polls, has, however, invited criticism from political circles. But Ashray is not perturbed.

“What’s wrong if we changed the party? Politics is all about equations. The BJP leaders and even the Chief Minister did not accept me as a party member. My name was there in the BJP’s panel of candidates as per the survey conducted. But CM opposed it. The state BJP leaders ridiculed my claim,” Ashray told The Statesman over the phone.

He said it was not for the ticket, it was for the respect and self-esteem that he and his grandfather went to the Congress party. (Ashray’s father, Power Minister Anil Sharma, is still in BJP).

The young Congress nominee, who had covered ground to throw his name among the electorate much before he joined Congress and got the ticket, says that his strength is youth power. “I am young, capable. I know the issues on the ground well and have the vision and determination to perform,” he said.

Ashray said he had already covered 15 out of 17 Assembly segments in Mandi Parliamentary constituency. “There is great resentment among people against the BJP candidate, sitting MP Ram Swaroop Sharma, as he failed to fulfil his promises. He could not materialise any development work in Mandi in five years,” he said.

The Congress candidate is, however, touchy about the reference by BJP leaders in the state that his grandfather Sukh Ram’s era is over. “This is not true. He is credited with the telecom revolution which made all the difference to development in the country. Till the time mobile phones are ringing, no one can say Sukh Ram’s era is over,” he said.

Ashray said his grandfather, a former Lok Sabha MP from Mandi, had served people of Mandi with great dedication and that’s why enjoys much respect. “I am hotel management professional. I could have lived a comfortable life. But I want to carry forward his legacy of development with a vision and contribute to the state’s development,” he said.

The Congress candidate is critical of the Jai Ram Thakur government in Himachal and said it has failed to perform in over one year of rule and has pushed the state further towards debt trap by taking more than Rs 3000 crore loan in this period. He said nothing was done to check unemployment or develop infrastructure and BJP was actually a “Bhartiya Jumla Party”.

About his father, BJP minister Anil Sharma’s performance, he said, “He had got a portfolio, which did not have much scope so far as public works are concerned.”

Asked whether he and Sukh Ram joined Congress without informing his father, Ashray said, “No. If he has said so, he may have his own political limits. But we consulted him. He even informed the CM about it, but CM did not respond,” he said.

Ashray said he is confident of good response to his candidature from Mandi.

“Right from Sukh Ram to former CM Virbhadra Singh to his son Vikramaditya Singh and Kaul Singh Thakur, all will work for Congress party’s victory in Mandi.

“Every time, Sukh Ram and Virbhadra Singh have put up a united fight, the BJP is routed from the state. The party has given so much to elderly leaders Sukh Ram and Virbhadra Singh—it’s time for them to give back to the party,” Ashray said.

He said it doesn’t matter that Mandi seat houses CM’s home district. “CM’s influence does not work. Had it been so, then CM’s wife Pratibha Singh would not have lost the Lok Sabha poll in 2014,” Ashray said.