Himachal Pradesh 2017

Battle for Mandi: father, son and scam

In the leader’s likeness: BJP supporters in Narendra Modi masks at an election rally in Palampur, about 100 km from Mandi, on Sunday.  

The Mandi Assembly constituency in Himachal Pradesh has shot to the limelight as the BJP has fielded Anil Sharma, son of the former Union Minister Sukh Ram, after he defected from the Congress.

Mr. Sharma, the Rural Development Minister in the Virbhadra Singh government until three weeks ago, is now locked in a keen contest with Congress nominee Champa Thakur, daughter of State Health Minister and party stalwart Kaul Singh Thakur.

Mr. Sharma is banking on the goodwill his father has in the area, but the opponents are raking up the “tainted” past of Mr. Ram, 92, in connection with the telecom scam of the 1990s.

The BJP, however, will look to cash in on Mr. Ram’s clout in the region as he can swing a few seats, which can be crucial to capture power in the 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly.

The Mandi seat was represented by Sukh Ram from 1962 to November 1984, when he was elected to the Lok Sabha. His protege, D.D. Thakur, won the seat in 1985, while the BJP wrested the seat from him in 1990.

In the 1993 Assembly poll, Mr. Sharma won from Mandi. After Mr. Ram’s name surfaced in the telecom scam, he was expelled from the Congress and he formed the Himachal Vikas Congress.

As he started his campaign early on Sunday, Mr. Sharma was greeted with garlands as he entered an urban locality in the 63,000-strong electorate.

Appealing to people to strengthen the hands of the BJP and vote for him, Mr. Sharma told them, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP have ushered in a new era of development and now it is Himachal’s turn to reap benefits.”

Past glories

“My father and I have nurtured this constituency for the past many years. We brought a number of development projects to the region,” he said.

Pandjitji, as the former Union Minister is popularly called, is bitter about Mr. Virbhadra Singh. “He disgraced many leaders in the party including my son. He is working like a dictator and even blackmails the Congress high command for self gain,” Mr. Ram alleged. Echoing his father’s sentiment, Mr. Sharma alleged that he and his father were ignored and sidelined in the Congress.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 10:26:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/himachal-pradesh-2017/battle-for-mandi-father-son-and-scam/article19988176.ece

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