Himachal Congress arch rivals’ progeny campaign together

Shimla: The road to political success that six-time Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and former Telecom Minister Sukh Ram, both Congress veterans, have followed throughout their lives has never been the same.

Arch rivals — Virbhadra Singh, 83, and Sukh Ram, 91 — both three-time MPs from Mandi, prefer not to cross paths with each other. But their progeny are now trudging together on the roads cutting through the hill state. Virbhadra Singh’s legislator son Vikramaditya Singh is campaigning for Sukh Ram’s grandson Ashray Sharma, who is making his electoral debut as a Congress candidate from Mandi, once the Congress bastion.

He is pitted against BJP’s sitting MP Ram Swaroop Sharma. “Vikramaditya Singh has been touring Mandi extensively, with Ashray Sharma, though Virbhadra Singh is yet to start campaigning,” state party President Kuldeep Singh Rathore told IANS.

Mandi is one of the country’s largest constituencies comprising Kullu, Mandi and some areas of Chamba and Shimla districts, besides the tribal-dominated Assembly seats of Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti. Sukh Ram holds a mass base in Mandi and Kullu districts, but he needs Virbhadra Singh’s support in other areas where he holds sway, says a senior party leader.

The seat is also seeing a battle of supremacy between Sukh Ram and Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur as both belong to Mandi district. Vikramaditya Singh, 30, the young scion of the Bushahr family, like his father, does not hesitate to fold his hands and bow his head before the commoners to seek votes for the party.

So does local hotelier Sharma, 32, who banks on his grandfather’s legacy and misses no opportunity to hit out at his father, Anil Sharma’ party, the BJP. Anil Sharma lost a Cabinet berth after he son was pitted against his own party. “It’s my grandfather’s dream to see me become an MP,” Ashray told IANS.

Sukhram, popularly known as Panditji in Mandi, in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections refused to campaign for Virbhadra Singh from Mandi. During the 2013 Lok Sabha bypoll — caused by Virbhadra Singh’s resignation, he told the media that he was too old to take to the streets for Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh.

In 2017, the grandfather-grandson joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But parted ways with it to rejoin the Congress on March 25. Ahead of launching their election campaign earlier this month, they met Virbhadra Singh in New Delhi to iron out their differences. Himachal Pradesh four Lok Sabha seats — Shimla (reserved), Kangra, Hamirpur and Mandi — will vote on May 19.

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