Before 2014, Ram Swaroop Sharma was a low-profile leader known to very few even among Himachal Pradesh BJP cadre. With his roots in the Rashritya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Sharma, who was then the state BJP general secretary, worked in the field. But he was catapulted to the spotlight when he was chosen to take on Pratibha Singh, a Congress heavyweight, in Mandi Lok Sabha constituency.
Fortune smiled on Sharma after Jai Ram Thakur, who went on to become the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, refused to contest the parliamentary election in 2014. The BJP did not have a choice after Maheshwar Singh, a former three-term MP and then president of the Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP), a breakaway faction of saffron party, also declined the ‘ghar wapsi’ offer.
Though Sharma was a greenhorn pitted against Pratibha, the wife of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, a scion of the royal family of Bushahr, he rode the Narendra Modi wave to emerge winner.
Sharma boasts of 85% attendance in Parliament but he was not active in terms of his participation in debates and asking questions. He did not move a single private member bill in five years.
He, however, says he raised important issues of national and state interest, including building infrastructure along the China border, rehabilitation of people displaced due to the Parbati project in Kullu and problems in the hydel sector of Himachal Pradesh.
Mandi district, comprising 10 assembly segments, emerged as the new power centre in Himachal politics in 2017 when the party picked Jai Ram Thakur for the chief minister’s post.
Falters on promises
The victory of a common man had revived hopes among the masses that Sharma would bring development and change in Mandi, the second largest parliamentary constituency comprising some of the remotest areas of the state.
Sharma, who often talked of his friendship with Modi, made a slew of promises of bringing new projects to his segment, improving connectivity and generating employment. Among the major promises he made was the railway expansion in the region and restarting of the Gumma Salt Mines and fruit-based industry.
However, five years on, there has been no expansion of the rail network and the mines are also not operational. The fruit-based industry is also a distant dream.
“The MP proved to be an utter failure in his tenure. Nothing improved in Mandi. The roads are in a bad shape and so are health services,” says Sanjay Bhardwaj, a resident of Jogindernagar.
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In his defence, Sharma says that a broad-gauge railway line from Pathankot to Leh via Mandi is under consideration of the Centre. “It was during my tenure that the work on the fourlaning of the Mandi-Pathankot highway was after Union minister for road transport Nitin Gadkari laid the foundation stone recently,” he says.
He also took credit for opening the Prime Minister’s Skill Development Centre in Mandi.
“Many development projects, including roads and irrigation and drinking water supply schemes and health institutions, were built in my constituency in the past five years,” he says.
Rough road ahead
With the BJP having indicated that it may not change its candidate in Mandi, Sharma is looking forward to another term as MP.
However, the ride to power is likely to be bumpy with many of his detractors within the party opposed to his candidature and his less than impressive performance as an MP. Kargil war hero Brigadier Kushal Thakur, who led the 18th Grenadier during the 1999 conflict, is still a front-runner for the candidature. He has been leading an agitation against the government for the past four years against low compensation paid to farmers for land acquired for the four-laning of the highway.
Thakur heads a joint action committee of affected farmers and has sought an early resolution to the problem. There are nearly 10,000 farmers along the Kiratpur-Manali highway from Nagchala to Manali. The famers along the Mandi -Manali highway are up in arms against the government for not being paid compensation in accordance with the right to fair compensation and land acquisition rehabilitation and resettlement Act, 2013.
CM Jai Ram Thakur steps in
The party has not yet decided on the candidate from Mandi but Ram Swaroop, called Sudama for his proximity to Modi, seems the only choice so far. Knowing that his prestige is stake, chief minister Jai Ram Thakur has been touring Mandi district to dole out sops and keep voters in good humour. Thakur, a five-time legislator from Seraj, has initiated several developmental schemes for the constituency.
Former Union telecom minister Sukh Ram’s son Ashray Sharma is also vying for a ticket. Ashray’s father Anil Sharma had switched from the Congress to the BJP ahead of the assembly elections in 2017. Sukh Ram still wields influence in Mandi parliamentary constituency, particularly among Brahmins.
With unfulfilled promises, Ram Swaroop will ride piggyback on Jai Ram Thakur if he is given the BJP ticket for the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
In an interview to HT, Ram Swaroop Sharma said he is banking on the welfare works done by him for another term in Parliament. Excerpts:
What were the high points of your five-year term?
I worked for setting up a cluster university in Mandi besides the four-laning of the Mandi-Pathankot highway, revival of the Gumma salt mines and the Nerchok Medical College and University. I got the budget of Rs 4,100 crore sanctioned under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, approval of the Pathankot-Mandi-Leh railway track and international airport at Balh in Mandi district.
One thing you wished to do as MP but could not, why?
I wanted to develop the adopted Old Manali village as a centre of religious tourism. The Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government in the state put hurdles and did not let me fulfil the commitment.
Would you like to contest again? Why should people re-elect you?
Yes, people will re-elect me because of my performance. I belong to a poor family and worked hard to implement public welfare schemes. Earlier, only raja-rani (kings and queens) used to contest and win from here, but people voted them out. I’ve remained in the field.
How was your experience in Parliament?
I can’t forget how Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowed and touched the steps of Parliament House on his first visit and said it was the most sacred place for him. I share his sentiments. It was a great experience to meet top leaders of the country at one place and I realised how simple high-profile personalities too are.
People say your performance was poor and that you depend on Narendra Modi and Jai Ram Thakur’s achievements.
My performance can be verified from the Parliament website. I have raised every possible issue of welfare of my constituency and state. I share achievements of the PM and CM in my speeches because of the work they have done after taking charge.
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Mar 15, 2019 14:23 IST
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