The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong open to Sukh Ram

New Delhi, Jan. 29: The Congress may opt for a “friendly” contest with Sukh Ram’s Himachal Vikas Congress in the February 26 Assembly elections — rather than defeat its anti-corruption plank against the ruling BJP — and invite veteran leader Veerbhadra Singh’s wrath.

Singh, leader of the Congress legislature party and a former chief minister, is opposed to any understanding with Sukh Ram.

The Congress high command is understood to have conveyed to its “central observers” for the poll to proceed to Himachal Pradesh with the knowledge that there will be no “formal tie-up” with the former Union minister’s party.

Sukh Ram, who has been an ally of the BJP in the state for five years, following his expulsion from the Congress over six years ago, has been knocking on the Congress’ doors with a poll tie-up offer.

He has met Mohsina Kidwai, the AICC general secretary in-charge of Himachal, twice. Their second meeting was on Monday.

Kidwai and a section of the state Congress leadership, led by PCC chief Vidya Stokes, are keen on an alliance. Apparently, Sukh Ram asked at least a dozen seats for his party whereas the pro-alliance lobby in the Congress was willing to concede only half-a-dozen.

But with Singh opposed to any alliance with Sukh Ram, the central leadership is hardly prepared to dismiss his point of view. Singh’s rivalry with the former Union minister goes back to the days when Sukh Ram was in the Congress. Singh is believed to have walked out of a meeting in the capital in which the alliance issue came up for discussion.

Besides citing Sukh Ram’s “waning clout” in his own district of Mandi, Singh is understood to have argued that the party should avoid being seen in the former Union minister’s company in view of his conviction in the telecom scandal.

The Congress’ move to build the poll campaign around a corruption chargesheet against the BJP government of P.K. Dhumal would make little sense if the party went with Sukh Ram, Singh is believed to have pointed out. The chargesheet is being prepared along with the election manifesto. Kidwai had said yesterday that the central leadership was yet to decide on whether to take up Sukh Ram’s alliance offer. But her deputy, AICC secretary Satyajit Sinh Gaikwad — who is counted among Singh’s backers in Delhi — saw no reason to tie up with the “tainted” HVC leader.

The central leadership is yet to finalise its list of nominees for the 68 seats at stake in the hill state.

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