It was past midnight when the tellers called in by the CBI to count the cash stacked in bags and suitcases in Sukh Ram’s palatial bunglow in Mandi completed their task. Rs 3.66 crore, they pencilled in the amount. The CBI claimed that Sukh Ram, a Cabinet minister in the P V Narasimha Rao government, had been paid off for a telecom contract. That day in August 1996, for many, corruption ceased to be an abstract idea, acquired a new face. However, it appears that the taint has not taken the sheen off Sukh Ram, who continues to be courted by the BJP and the Congress. On Monday, the 91-year-old politician rejoined the Congress, his grandson in tow.
Evidently, the weight of corruption allegations didn’t sink Sukh Ram’s political career. Soon after the CBI raid, the Congress, which Sukh Ram represented as MLA and MP many times since winning his first election from Mandi in 1962, expelled him. Unfazed, he formed the Himachal Vikas Congress and won the Mandi assembly seat in the 1998 assembly election. The HVC, with five MLAs, supported the BJP government. Ahead of the 2004 general election, Sukh Ram wrapped up his outfit and rejoined the Congress. Two years ago, he left the Congress to join the BJP; his son, Anil Sharma, is currently a minister in the Jairam Thakur ministry.
The world of telecom has changed beyond recognition since Sukh Ram left the ministry. So, too, has the idea of public corruption. A successor of Sukh Ram in the ministry, Andimuthu Raja, was accused of presiding over a scam estimated at Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The 2G cost the UPA the 2014 election, but Raja’s name has since been cleared. While Sukh Ram eyes another battle in Himachal, Raja has hit the campaign trial in the Nilgiri hills. Meanwhile, corruption has taken the name of an aircraft and become a slogan on T-shirts.