Himachal BJP unhappy with entry of Sukh Ram family ahead of Himachal polls
The desperation of the BJP in Himachal Pradesh was made clear this week when it inducted former union cabinet minister Sukh Ram and his son Anil Sharma, a minister in the outgoing Congress government led by Virbhadra Singh, just weeks before the hill state heads to the polls.
The move is not being looked upon favourably by members of the saffron party at the local level. The resentment has led to several leaders emailing their resignations.
“There is resentment on two counts. The first is that the BJP's national president Amit Shah totally bypassed the Himachal unit of the party to bring them into the party. Nobody had an inkling of what was going on till the time Anil Sharma's arrival was announced in Delhi," said a senior media person.
"More so, over the last several months, there was a system being followed on the a party committee screening candidates and even those joining the party. The committee was supposed to suggest three names for finalisation of a candidate for every constituency. All that has gone for a toss. With the party giving tickets to parachute candidates with political clout, what is the difference between the BJP and the Congress? Its pure opportunism at work,” he added.
Politically, it appears the BJP took this step with a view to appease the powerful Pandit lobby in the belt. “It has its benefits, but not when your own cadre is up in arms against it. The party will not be able to campaign on the issue of corruption now,” says a senior media person based in Shimla.
According to sources within the party, there is a lot of resentment over the way everything is now being centralised in the BJP and how the voices and opinions of local leaders are being completely ignored.
“The second factor at play is that the local BJP Leaders in Mandi are agitated over the fact that their party has imported the Congress leaders against whom they have been agitating and complaining all this while of harassing the BJP workers. They cannot take orders from these leaders who have come from the Congress,” said the observer.
It is the same building resentment that has stalled the entry of GS Bali, another minister in the Virbhadra cabinet, into the BJP. It has also delayed the declaration of candidates by the BJP.
At the same time, there is a point of view that the BJP did not have a heavyweight leader in Mandi. “It is true that the induction is not to the liking of the panchayat and town level leaders. But the BJP knows that it is very difficult to defeat the Sukh Ram family on its home turf,” says local resident Mohinder Sharma.
The Bollywood factor
An interesting dimension is the fact that Bollywood star Salman Khan's sister Arpita is married to Anil's son Ayush Sharma. There are many who believe it was Salman Khan who got the Sukh Ram family in touch with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, as he is known to be close to them.
“It is being discussed in Mandi that a couple of road shows by Salman will take place ahead of the polls to garner support for Anil Sharma. This small town always looks forward to a celebrity's arrival,” said the political observer.
Yet, questions are being asked about BJP's much hyped 'no tolerance policy on corruption' with reference to Sukh Ram. People are openly asking BJP leaders and supporters to explain how the party has accepted Sukh Ram, a minister in PV Narasimha Rao government who was convicted in a scam related to the telecom ministry. The party leadership is even drawing brickbats on the social media for the 'games it has introduced in Himachal politics'.
Sukh Ram had helped the BJP form the government in the state in 1997 after he had split the Congress to form his Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC). But he had later walked out of the alliance to return home to the Congress.
Of late, the relations between the Sukh Ram family and Virbhadra had gone sour again. One of the reasons was Anil not happy with a less important portfolio of rural development. There have been reports of him and his father being sidelined within the party and his not being appointed to any of the important party committees. Things had reached a flashpoint in August when Virbhadra in an apparent reference to Sukh Ram had said, “I am not aaya Ram - gaya Ram.”
Both Sukh Ram and Anil were absent during the recent public rally in Mandi where Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi declared Virbhadra as the chief ministerial face of the party.
Anil is a three-time Congress MLA besides being a former Rajya Sabha member. He had earlier served as a minister of state in the Virbhadra cabinet from 1993 to 1996 but had resigned after Sukh Ram was arrested.