Sukh Ram (1927-2022): The man who rang in telecom revolution, could never wash off scam taint

That’s how Ashray Sharma introduced the death of his grandfather Pandit Sukh Ram, 95, early Wednesday morning. And this is how the delicate and soft-spoken baby-kisser will at all times be remembered in Himachal – as the person who introduced phones to each and every corner and cranny within the hill state with its tricky topography.

Sukh Ram used to be the Union Communications and Information Technology Minister within the P V Narasimha Rao govt from 1993 to 1996, when financial reforms have been underway. As phone connections began achieving properties, and landlines made manner for cellphones, Sukh Ram ensured that the telecom revolution additionally took root in his state Himachal, to its remotest and best possible villages. Sukh Ram himself hit a number of lows after that, however Himachal by no means forgot this.

Prof Ramesh Chauhan, a political scientist at Himachal Pradesh University (HPU), recounts how virtually no person from the state who carried out for a connection used to be denied it. “Remember, those were the days of the licence raj and a landline was a big thing. But Pandit ji would okay every connection in less than a fortnight. I have personally experienced this. People started calling him telephone mantri.”

Pandit Sukh Ram launching Himachal Vikas Party on July 6, 1997 in Mandi. (Express archive photograph by way of Swdesh Talwar)

It used to be telecom that still ended in the scandal that may ceaselessly taint him. In 1996, Sukh Ram fell from grace when his homes at Mandi in Himachal Pradesh and New Delhi have been raided by way of the CBI, resulting in the restoration of enormous quantities of money. Sukh Ram persisted to battle a criminal struggle on one hand and a struggle for his political survival at the different after this episode, which additionally ended in his expulsion from the Congress.

Born in July 1927 right into a deficient circle of relatives of 10 youngsters in Kotli, 22 km from Mandi, Sukh Ram prominent himself in research and after doing regulation in Delhi, began a criminal observe within the Mandi district regulation courts in 1953. He made his first foray into politics 9 years later when he changed into a Member of the Territorial Council (the precursor to the state Assembly).

He went directly to grow to be one of the crucial influential Brahmin leaders of the state – they include 20% of Himachal’s inhabitants – profitable 5 Vidhan Sabha and 3 Lok Sabha elections. Till the very finish, he used to be referred to as a other folks’s baby-kisser, with an open area for all and sundry. But he may just by no means fulfil his dream of changing into leader minister.

Chauhan says that during 1983, when the Congress needed to exchange then sitting CM Ram Lal because of a corruption case, the prime command in addition to the legislators have been at the back of Sukh Ram, as he used to be energetic in state politics, however Ram Lal lobbied for Virbhadra Singh, who used to be then a Union minister, and the prime command agreed.

That activate probably the most longest operating political rivalries within the historical past of the state, between Virbhadra and Sukh Ram. Chauhan says it additionally ended in the department of the Congress into two camps – one with Sukh Ram, Vidya Stokes; the opposite with Virbhadra.

President Giani Zail Singh administering the oath of workplace and secrecy of the Minister of state for defence to Sukh Ram at Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi on September 25, 1985. (Express archive photograph)

In 1993, Sukh Ram once more misplaced out. While then PM Rao used to be fascinated with making him the CM, the MLAs rallied at the back of Virbhadra. “For three days, there could be no oath-taking as Virbhadra refused to accept a berth in the Union ministry (in place of CM post),” recounts Chauhan.

Regardless in their tussle for the highest task in Himachal, the 2 maintained civility of their interpersonal members of the family. “They did not let it vitiate their personal space,” says Kamal, a retired professor from HPU.

But it did have a bearing at the political historical past of Himachal. After his expulsion from the Congress in 1996, Sukh Ram and his son Anil Sharma, then an MLA from Mandi, shaped the Himachal Vikas Congress and entered right into a post-poll alliance with the BJP in 1998. Thanks to Sukh Ram’s give a boost to, now not most effective did Prem Kumar Dhumal grow to be CM, it additionally changed into the primary BJP govt within the state to final a complete time period. The Congress misplaced out because it refused to accede to Sukh Ram’s situation of holding Virbhadra out of it.

All thru, Mandi remained Sukh Ram’s fiefdom. He retained the Mandi Assembly seat for over 20 years from 1963 to 1984, when he effectively contested the Lok Sabha elections and used to be made a Minister of State for Defence Production and Supplies, Planning and Food and Civil Supplies, within the Rajiv Gandhi govt.

In 1998, two years after the money seizures, he gained the Assembly polls from Mandi Sadar once more, with a margin of over 22,000 votes, the best possible within the state. In the run-up to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, he returned to the Congress.

Come 2017, previous to the Himachal Assembly elections, Sukh Ram joined the BJP at the side of his son Anil and grandson Ashray. The BJP went directly to win 9 out of 10 seats in Mandi district, attributed to Sukh Ram’s affect.

Two years later, Sukh Ram once more joined the Congress, publicly burying his variations with Virbhadra. At a rally in Mandi in 2019, he mentioned he had met Virbhadra in Delhi and had apologised to him. “I asked him for forgiveness for any mistakes that I might have committed,” he mentioned and burst into tears.

Later, grandson Ashray unsuccessfully contested the Mandi parliamentary seat on Congress price tag. Another of Sukh Ram’s grandsons, Aayush Sharma, is an actor married to famous person Salman Khan’s sister.

In 2021, Virbhadra’s widow Pratibha Singh gained again the Mandi Lok Sabha seat from the BJP in a bypoll, by way of an enormous margin of one.36 lakh votes, once more because of Sukh Ram’s lend a hand. “Though he was too frail to campaign in person, he issued an appeal to the electorate to vote for Pratibha Singh,” says Kamal.

While the citizens looked as if it would now not care, the case of the money seizure persisted to hang-out Sukh Ram maximum of his lifestyles. In 2011, when he used to be 84, a Delhi courtroom sentenced him to 5 years in prison. Later in 2012, he surrendered and went to prison however used to be bailed out by way of the Supreme Court in two days.

He as soon as informed this paper, “Despite the fact that age is not on my side, I have not lost hope for justice. I am the victim of a political conspiracy. My fight will continue till I come out clean from the court of law.”

In 2018, he had approached the apex courtroom, pleading that he didn’t wish to die with this taint. The case is pending there.

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