Ex-minister for PHE and presently, Vice-President Sham Lal Sharma would have demitted office as Deputy Chief Minister of previous NC-Congress coalition government, had the then congress President Sonia Gandhi heard the then JKPCC president Prof Saifuddin Soz loud and clear.
Soz, according to an insider, had recommended that the then Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand be replaced with Sham Lal Sharma. Soz had referred to serious allegations of corruption, nepotism, misuse of power and above all an indiscipline against the then Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand and stated that for saving congress, either the post of Deputy Chief Minister should be removed or he should be replaced with someone whose image is comparatively better.
According to a top congress leader in New Delhi, Soz had communicated this to Sonia Gandhi both verbally as well as through a written communiqué. He had demanded that there should be no delay in making this change at the top level. Central leader further said that Soz was so particular about this issue that he pleaded repeatedly for a meeting with Ahmed Patel, who was then the closest aide of congress president Sonia Gandhi.
This congress leader further revealed that the repeated requests of Soz were not heeded to. “Mr. Soz wanted this change because of two reasons one, that he disliked Tara Chand owing to the purported serious charges of corruption against him and two, because the union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was forcefully backing him while playing political games with Soz from behind the closed doors,” said the top congress leader.
Sonia Gandhi despite being apprised about the declining graph of congress in Jammu region preferred silence for the reasons best known to her, said the insider. He said that Sonia was misled by his aides who would often describe Soz’s complaints as direct consequence of his differences with the then union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
When pressed hard and told that action should be initiated, the top leader said that Sonia’s aides would refer to repercussion of annoying the Schedule Caste vote bank in Jammu and Kashmir, if the then Deputy Chief Minister was demoted or replaced by someone else in the cabinet. They would often tell Sonia that replacing Tara Chand would send wrong signals across the state.
Interestingly, while the Schedule Caste vote bank in Jammu and Kashmir is 7-8 percent, Sonia had been made to believe that this vote bank is more than 25 percent; said the congress leader. He maintained that to further weaken Sham Lal’s case for becoming Deputy Chief Minister; a case of his alleged involvement in spurious drugs was made.
“Sonia Gandhi was made to believe that Sham had made huge fortune as minster for Health and Medical education by being hand in glove with those dealing with spurious drugs. She was told that police is likely to arrest Sham Lal anytime. If he is elevated as Deputy Chief Minister, his arrest would be a major embarrassment for the party,” said the top Congress leader.
He further said that Sonia did seek reports from the state government but preferred neither to read that nor see a confirmation of the same from the then state president Prof Saif-ud-din Soz, the leader said. He maintained that had Sonia Gandhi or her son Rahul Gandhi heard pleas of the then state congress president, the party would not have suffered in the assembly elections.
“Issue was not elevation of Sham Lal Sharma as Deputy Chief Minister nor was it about Tara Chand being shown the door; it was all about taking up correct political decision to resurrect the image of congress party in Jammu region. The image of party would have improved immensely if the congress president Sonia Gandhi would have gathered courage and taken action on the suggestions as well as complaints of the then congress president Prof. Saifuddin Soz but nothing was done,” said the leader.
“Since nothing was done and the situation was allowed to deteriorate, things went from bad to worse and the party suffered a drubbing in the Lok Sabha as well as Assembly elections. Course correction should have been done. If not Sham Lal Sharma, someone else should have been brought-in. But the Congress President did nothing. Even if Tara Chand was not involved in any case of corruption, his image should have been verified from the ground but that was never done,” added the Congress leader who is still believed to be close aide of Sonia Gandhi. He further said that there was complete blackout of information to Sonia Gandhi at one point of time from J&K because she was seeing everything with an eye on factional war between Prof. Saifuddin Soz and the then Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.