In a major setback to the BJP, former Union minister Sukh Ram along with his grandson Aashray Sharma joined the Congress in New Delhi on Monday. Sukh Ram, who, along with his kin, had defected to the BJP ahead of the 2017 Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls, termed his rejoining the Congress as “homecoming”.
Sukh Ram, who claimed that he was left humiliated by Congress leaders, had left the Congress in October 2017 along with his kin, and had joined the BJP. Follow election LIVE updates here
For the upcoming polls, Sukh Ram was in talks with the BJP to get candidature for his grandson Aashray from Mandi Lok Sabha seat. However, the BJP fielded the sitting MP from Mandi, Ramswaroop Sharma, as its candidate, leaving Sukh Ram miffed with the party.
While Congress leaders including party president Rahul Gandhi welcomed Sukh Ram and Aashray into the party in New Delhi on Monday, the party did not clarify whether Aashray would be fielded from Mandi seat.
Congress state in-charge of Himachal Pradesh Rajni Patil, who did not give a clear answer on Aashray’s candidature from Mandi, said in a press conference in Delhi that fielding Aashray “will be a call of the Central Election Committee”.
Sukh Ram (92), who has thrice won the Lok Sabha polls from Mandi – in 1996, 1991, and 1984 – has a strong hold over Mandi Lok Sabha constituency which encompasses 17 state Assembly seats. His entry into the Congress will bear repercussions for the BJP in the upcoming polls where the BJP will have to ask for votes without the support of Sukh Ram and his supporters and followers.
With his first ever win being in 1962, Sukh Ram went on to win state Assembly polls in 1967, 1972, 1977, 1982 and 1998. Also, his son Anil Sharma is currently in his fourth term in the state Assembly.
“I want to introduce Aashray (to Congress) so that he can take forward the developmental works done by me and his father (Anil),” Sukh Ram said.
Sukh Ram was Minister of State for Communication in the P V Narasimha Rao government. After his name came up in the telecom scam in the 1990s, he was removed from the Congress, after which he formed a regional party called Himachal Vikas Congress and won from the Mandi seat in the 1998 state Assembly polls. His party had won five seats in total and had supported the BJP in forming a government in the state in 1998. However, he rejoined the Congress ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.
While the two joined the Congress, the future of Anil, who is currently the Multi-Purpose Projects and Power Minister in the Jai Ram Thakur government, is uncertain in the BJP. Anil was also a Rajya Sabha MP between 1998-2004. This is his fourth term in the state Assembly.
Anil’s son Aayush Sharma, who is a Bollywood actor, is married to actor Salman Khan’s sister Arpita. Anil did not respond to calls from The Indian Express. However, on speaking to the media on Monday morning he had said, “I have told him (the chief minister) that they may take action (against me) based on my father and son’s decision to join the Congress.”
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said, “I met Anil Sharma and he told me that the Congress was requesting his son to contest from Mandi. I told him (Anil) to campaign for the BJP in Mandi. Sukh Ram and his (Anil’s) son were never members of the BJP, so whether they join the Congress is not an issue for the BJP. Anil ji is a Minister in the government. He (Anil) has to now decide what he wishes to do.”
However, Sukh Ram claimed that he was indeed a BJP member and that without his support the party wouldn’t have won the 2017 state Assembly polls with a thumping majority.
State BJP president Satpal Singh Satti said, “He (Anil) has to decide whether he wishes to continue supporting the BJP or not. It is not our decision to take. He will remain in the party till he continues to support it.”
On whether Sukh Ram joining the Congress will hamper the chances of the BJP in the Mandi seat, Satti said, “The Congress supporters will vote for the Congress and the BJP supporters will vote for the BJP. Hence, Sukh Ram ji joining the Congress is not going to affect us.”
However, in the press conference in New Delhi, communications in-charge for the Congress, Randeep Singh Surjewala said, “With a man of such stature supporting the Congress, the party will benefit not only in Himachal Pradesh but across Northern India in the upcoming polls.”