Sukh Ram to campaign for Virbhadra's wife

Mandi (Himachal Pradesh), May 30 (IANS) Former telecom minister Sukh Ram will campaign for Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh's wife Pratibha Singh, the Congress candidate for the June 23 Lok Sabha by-poll from Mandi constituency in Himachal Pradesh, the party said Thursday.

Popularly known as Pandit-ji in his bastion Mandi, Sukh Ram had in 2009 general elections refused to campaign for Virbhadra Singh, who was contesting from this parliamentary constituency.

According to a list released by the Congress Thursday regarding the state campaign committee for the Mandi by-election, Sukh Ram is one of the members.

The other members include the chief minister, who resigned from parliament after he was elected to the state assembly in December 2012, the state party's in-charge Birender Chaudhary and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.

In 2009, the former telecom minister, who was parliamentarian from this seat in 1984, 1991 and 1996, had openly told the media that he was too old to campaign for Virbhadra Singh.

But in the assembly elections in November last year, Pandit-ji was seen sharing dais with Virbhadra Singh as his son Anil Sharma was contesting from the Mandi assembly seat.

Sharma is now a minister in the Virbhadra Singh cabinet.

Currently on an interim bail granted by the Supreme Court, Sukh Ram had to resign as the communications minister in the Narasimha Rao government in 1996 in the wake of a financial scandal involving purchase of telecom equipment from a Hyderabad-based private firm.

Political observers say the Congress still wants to cash in on the legacy of Sukh Ram -- a five-time legislator too from Mandi.

For this by-poll, Pratibha Singh is up against the BJP's Jai Ram Thakur, a former cabinet minister and sitting legislator.

Interestingly, when the telecom scam came to light, Sukh Ram blamed certain Congress leaders who he said had conspired to frame him. He parted ways with the Congress in 1997 and floated regional political outfit Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC).

The HVC contested the 1998 and 2003 assembly elections. In 1998, HVC won five seats, and only one seat in 2003.

In 2004, the Congress managed to bring back the HVC rebels into the party fold.

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