Updated: May 12, 2022 9:35:17 am
Until that fateful day in 1996, Sukh Ram, who died on Wednesday aged 94, was a politician from Himachal Pradesh in charge of an important central ministry. By the time the CBI sleuths completed their work in his two bungalows in Delhi and Mandi — their operation beamed to homes across the country by TV channels — Ram had become a national sensation. That night, the CBI officers counted currency notes stacked in beds, cushions and pillows worth Rs 3.61 crore. The CBI raids made for a riveting spectacle and turned Ram, then the Union Minister of Communications and IT (with independent charge), into the face of the abstract idea called political corruption. Ram resigned as minister and the Congress expelled him from the party.
All this action, however, had little impact on Ram’s apparent connect with the voters in his home turf. In 1998, two years after he was expelled from the Congress, the party he represented for three terms in Parliament, he was elected to the Himachal Pradesh legislative assembly from Mandi Sadar constituency with a majority of 22,000 votes. His absence reportedly cost the Congress that election. Post election, the Himachal Vikas Congress, the party he floated, forged an alliance with the BJP, which formed the government. A Delhi court found him guilty in 2009, but both BJP and Congress kept wooing him and he kept changing sides close to elections. Mandi preferred to remember the work he did as a legislator and minister — he is credited with ushering in the telecom revolution in Himachal Pradesh — rather than the currency notes unearthed by the CBI.
Sukh Ram’s story reveals the electorate’s complex relationship with corruption. In 1996, raids at J Jayalalithaa’s residence in Chennai yielded large amounts of gold, silver, saris, shoes, watches etc. She became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu three more times thereafter. A special court convicted her in 2014, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict in 2017, but Amma’s memory reigns supreme in Tamil Nadu.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on May 12, 2022 under the title ‘Man of the people’.
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