In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, many leaders, both from the Congress and BJP, have switched sides in Himachal, brining focus on political opportunism by ‘netas’ and promoting culture of ‘aya ram-gaya ram’.
Former telecommunication Minister Sukh Ram’s name has become synonymous with “party hopping” with his return to the Congress once again. To seek ticket for his grandson Ashray Sharma from the Mandi Lok Sabha seat, he deserted the BJP within a year-and-a-half, leaving his son Anil Sharma in the lurch. Sharma, Minister for Power in the Jai Ram Thakur-led BJP regime, had to resign from the Cabinet following his son being pitted by the Congress.
Even as Sukh Ram’s family accused the BJP of not giving them their due, forcing them to head back to the Congress, most term it nothing more than “political opportunism.”
Nonetheless, considering Sukh Ram’s stature, who has remained MP for three terms, one cannot take the astute politician lightly. The Congress certainly felt his loss, when he joined the BJP and the Congress was unable to win even a single Assembly seat out of 10 in the 2017 Assembly poll.
Close on the heels of Sukh Ram was the dramatic entry of former BJP state president and three-time MP Suresh Chandel into the Congress, as he bid adieu to the saffron party. Chandel, whose name had figured in the infamous “cash for query” scam that rocked the Parliament, had virtually been in political oblivion since his name cropped up in the cash for query scam.
The BJP managed to get six-time former Congress MLA Singhi Ram to join them. He represented Rampur (reserved) Assembly segment and was a minister in the previous Virbhadra regime. Besides, Surinder Kaku, former MLA from Kangra also switched sides in the election season.
In the past, some senior leaders like Congress leader Vijai Singh Mankotia have hopped parties including Congress, Janata Dal and BSP. Similarly, former Congress minister Gulab Singh Thakur from Jogindernagar in Mandi joined the BJP and became the Vidhan Sabha Speaker.
However, the biggest political development in the poll season was the return of Sukh Ram and his grandson back to the Congress. With his bête noire Virbhadra Singh, often referring to Sukh Ram as ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram’, there is little “Pandit ji”, as he is often referred to, can say in his defence. With spotlight being on party hoppers, it is only the electorate, which will give its verdict by rejecting or supporting such party hoppers.
The fate of Anil Sharma, Sukh Ram’s son, who resigned from the Cabinet hangs in balance as he is technically in the BJP, but pushed to the wall for refusing to campaign for BJP. Having won on the BJP ticket in the 2017 Assembly poll, he has no option but to stay put in the party, as any violation could attract the provisions of the Anti-Defecation law, which could result in losing his membership of the Vidhan Sabha.
It was way back in 1998 that Sukh Ram had floated his political outfit, Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) after his expulsion from the Congress, when money was recovered from his home in New Delhi. The 92-year-old leader, who is still facing cases in recovery of money, was seen knocking at the Congress door to launch his 31-year-old, ferociously ambitious grandson Ashray.
Using his old connections in the Congress, he managed to get a ticket for his grandson, much to the discomfiture of not just Virbhadra, but many others within the Congress. The ‘dadu-pota’ duo is slugging it out in the heat and dust of the elections, with Sukh Ram making emotional appeal to woo voters.
Party hopping by “netas” in the election season is nothing short of political opportunism. Now, it remains to be seen whether the electorate will reject them or extend support considering their statute and following.
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