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Tuesday, November 3, 1998
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Sukh Ram hardens stand
Links decision on poll to CBI probe
Tribune News Service

SHIMLA, Nov 2 — Uncertainty over BJP-HVC alliance fielding a joint candidate for the Baijnath seat is likely to continue until November 6, with the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) supremo, Mr Sukh Ram, linking his party's support to the BJP nominee with the demand for a CBI inquiry into charges against Mr Virbhadra Singh, a former Chief Minister.

Mr Sukh Ram, who was authorised by the party to take a final decision on whether to leave the seat for the BJP, met the Chief Minister Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal, late last night, and had detailed discussion with him on the issue. He conveyed the sentiments of the party men, who were of the unanimous view that the HVC should not leave the seat and instead persuade the BJP to support its candidate to strengthen the alliance. If the BJP could leave seats for the SAD in Delhi, there was no reason why it could not do so in Himachal, HVC leader felt.

Mr Sukh Ram, it is learnt, made it clear to the Chief Minister that the general impression in the party and the public at large was that the government had been going soft on Mr Virbhadra Singh and that the HVC could leave the seat for the BJP only if its demand for a CBI probe into charges against Mr Virbhadra Singh was met forthwith. The party had submitted a charge sheet against the former Chief Minister more than three months ago, but no action had been taken on it so far.

He warned Mr Dhumal that if a CBI probe was not ordered by November 6, the party would not only field its candidate but might also be forced to take the extreme step of breaking the alliance. In that eventuality, all HVC ministers would resign.

Mr Dhumal reportedly assured the HVC leader that he would convey his decision to the party high command, which would take the final decision on the matter. Mr Sukh Ram said he had no grudge against the Chief Minister, who was 'trying his best' to take along the alliance partner.

The tactical move of Mr Sukh Ram has put the ball in the court of the BJP high command, which will have to not only choose its nominee from among two strong contenders — Mr Dulo Ram and Ms Indu Goswami, but also order a CBI inquiry against Mr Virbhadra Singh without delay.

Meanwhile, in a bid to grab another important portfolio, the HVC has asked the Chief Minister to allocate the Power portfolio to their newly inducted minister, Mr Ram Lal Markandey.

Mr Markandey was inducted as a Minister of State on Saturday last.

Sources said Mr Sukh Ram had sounded Mr Dhumal about the demand of his party men.

The Power portfolio is considered important here not only because of the public dealing involved in the HPSEB, but also because of the vast generation potential that is being tapped.

Sources in the HVC said Mr Dhumal had initially proposed to allocate the portfolio of Rural Development to Mr Markandey. The portfolio is presently held by Mr Mohinder Singh of the HVC.

The sources out that the Power portfolio, which was held by Mr Sukh Ram, before he resigned in view of the 'charge sheet' issued against him by the CBI, should be restored to the HVC.

Mr Sukh Ram has been choosy in getting portfolios for his ministers right from when the BJP came to power with his support. In fact, BJP activists have been complaining that all important portfolios were given to Mr Sukh Ram's supporters while BJP ministers have had to contend with less lucrative portfolios.

HVC leaders had warned Mr Dhumal after last month's ministry expansion that portfolios of their party ministers should not be touched during any reallocation. Their demand was met by the Chief Minister.

Meanwhile, the Congress, which seems to be keenly watching the ongoing tussle between the coalition partners, has also not decided upon its candidate for the Baijnath seat.

Stakes are high for both the parties. While the Congress desperately needs to retain the seat, held by its late president Sant Ram, a victory for the BJP, which had a strength of 33 in the 68-member House, would go a long way in consolidating its position with the support of three HVC legislators and an Independent.back

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