VETERAN LEADER Sukh Ram, whose son Anil Sharma recently quit the Congress to join BJP, Monday launched a frontal attack on Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, alleging that he was adopting policies of “terror and conspiracies.” Addressing a gathering outside Mandi Deputy Commissioner office after Anil Sharma filed his nomination papers, Sukh Ram claimed, “I was aware of Virbahdra Singh’s policies of terror and conspiracies. I was waiting for my son Anil Sharma to get disillusioned with him. When Virbahdra insulted me, eventually Anil Sharma also felt suffocated and we both joined BJP.”
“He [Virbhadra] calls me Aaya Ram Gaya Ram. The reality is that he is Aaya Ram Gaya Ram. To coerce Congress high command to remove Kaul Singh Thakur as state Congress chief, Virbhadra had called his supporters and threatened to join NCP, the party of Sharad Pawar,” Sukh Ram said, claiming that Congress bowed to the pressure tactic and appointed Virbhadra as state Congress chief and after that he became Chief Minister. “This blackmailing politics is not new,” he added.
In his address, Anil Sharma said, “Now onwards, only lotus will bloom in Congress citadel [of Mandi].” Sharma, who is pitted against Congress heavyweight Kaul Singh Thakur’s daughter Champa Thakur, said, “Since 1962, lotus bloomed only for two-and-half years in Mandi. Now onwards, only lotus will bloom in this Congress citadel. This will be an answer to those few in the Congress who think they are the only ones who control Congress.”
Anil said some people in Congress were levelling false accusations against him that as a minister he reaped political dividends. He said he was not “malayee khane wala minister” (the one who reaps political dividends).
Meanwhile, Congress nominee Champa Thakur visited the rural areas of Mandi Monday. “This ticket is not for me. It is for all the women of the constituency. And it is for the first time that the party has fielded a woman candidate. We are going to win the election, but I want you to ensure a lead of at least 15,000 votes,” she told a gathering of people in Padhuan village, nearly 5 km from Mandi.
Champa, who has been fielded by Congress as it relaxed one family one ticket rule for her and Virbhdra’s son Vikramaditya Singh, told the gathering, which was comprised mostly of women to follow the pulse polio punchline “Ek bhi bacha chhoot gaya, suraksha chakkar toot gaya” to ensure that she wins by at least 15000 votes.
“It is wrong to say that the Congress high command has relaxed one family one ticket rule for me. I am zila parishad chairman and have won zila parishad elections earlier also. In fact, when I met Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi during a rally, I mentioned my electoral victories. Then one party leader informed Rahul Gandhi that I was daughter of Kaul Singh Thakur. It is wrong to say that the rule was relaxed to give ticket to me,” Champa told The Indian Express, emphasising that party fielded him considering her own political track record.
The switchover of Anil Sharma from Congress to BJP is the talking point in Mandi. Wearing the BJP robe around his neck on the stage of Anil Sharma, a man wishing not to be identified said there were several senior BJP leaders vying for ticket.
“The morale of workers who are supporters of such leaders definitely goes down when party fields a candidate who comes from other party.”
“Earlier, it was factionalism that has had cost BJP dearly in the constituency and there was no serious effort to end the factionalism,” said the leader. Another man, claiming to be a BJP supporter, said, “Now, the party has fielded a candidate whose family remained the target of BJP earlier. It is embarrassing to now seek votes for him.”
But Anil Sharma is unfazed and confident of majority support. “I tell people that only symbol has changed,” he told The Indian Express, pointing towards his BJP robe. “We have our own base here. When we floated Himachal Vikas Congress, the security deposits of both Congress and BJP were forfieted. I noticed today that 90 to 95 percent of Congress workers who were with me when I was in Congress were there to support me today.
Meanwhile, the business community in Mandi is unhappy over the “improper” implementation of GST, but is however divided if resentment over GST will take any toll on the poll prospects of candidates in fray.
“The idea of GST was good, but its implementation has been bad. Should we do business or continuously file returns,” said Harish Lohia, who runs a hardware shop in Mandi.
Mandi district Beopar Mandal senior vice president Ashok Sethi said the GST was proving to be cumbersome. “A good idea, but bad implementation. Three months ago, there was clear wave that BJP will sweep the elections. The problems caused by GST have definitely dented the image of BJP. It is not going to be one-sided contest now,” said Sethi.