The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sukh Ram buzz in Cong

New Delhi, Jan. 8: Six years after his expulsion from the Congress, former Union telecom minister Sukh Ram was the topic of discussion at the party headquarters on 24 Akbar Road today.

Several “eyewitnesses” said the convicted former minister was at the headquarters this evening for over one-and-half hours. One Congress Seva Dal functionary confirmed this in the presence of an AICC office bearer, though the latter feigned ignorance.

Many ticket-seekers from Himachal Pradesh, who are making a beeline before the party leadership, agreed they had sighted Sukh Ram. Veteran Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Sat Mahajan said: “I am told he was here today.”

No one in the party leadership, however, would acknowledge Sukh Ram’s visit. The Congress general secretary in charge of Himachal affairs, Mohsina Kidwai, or other general secretaries involved in the run-up to the Himachal Assembly elections in February, such as Ambika Soni and Motilal Vora said they had neither seen nor met him. Insiders said Sukh Ram met Vora for over an hour.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has presumably asked Vora and Ahmed Patel to screen the party’s poll candidates and consider a possible electoral alliance with Sukh Ram’s party.

A section of the Himachal Congress, led by its chief, Vidya Stokes, has been pressing the high command to accommodate Sukh Ram and his four “winning” MLAs to avert a split in “secular votes”. Stokes has argued that Sukh Ram’s party could harm the Congress in up to a dozen Assembly constituencies. This has, however, been hotly disputed by former chief minister Veerbhadra Singh.

Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy acknowledged that poll alliance talks were being held with Sukh Ram’s party to defeat the BJP.

But these were in the exploratory and had been concluded. Vora said the Congress would contest all the seats in Himachal on its own.

The Congress leadership is inclined to avoid a split in the anti-BJP votes but not sure about accommodating Sukh Ram, convicted in a corruption case. “We have a problem with the parties whose leaders are convicted,” a Congress leader said.

The Congress has apparently sent feelers to all four MLAs of Sukh Ram, who are believed to be sure winners. The party’s leaders arrest that, barring his legislators, Sukh Ram has no relevance in the coming polls.

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