Kuldeep Rai Sharma:
One Chance Please!
By Zubair Ahmed
Some people aspire for a political career, some drift into it and upon some it is forced. Kuldeep Rai Sharma too had not thought of politics as a career. But it was thrust upon him. The circumstances that forced him are yet to come out into the open.
But he surprised everyone when he secured more than 20% of votes polled in 1998 contesting under his own Andaman & Nicobar Congress. The next year he teamed up with Bishnu Pada Ray and gave Manoranjan Bhakta the first taste of defeat. But it did not take long for the relation with BJP to sour.
Manoranjan Bhakta persuaded Kuldeep Rai Sharma to join Indian National Congress and succeeded. Essentially it was a move to defang Kuldeep Rai Sharma. But the cure proved worse than the disease.
Kuldeep Rai Sharma went on to become working president during 2004 election and eventually the State President. He has assiduously imbibed some of the sterling qualities of Bhakta as a politician. Shy by nature, he talks very less, keeps his council and bids his time for an opportune moment to strike. His vulnerability could be deceptive. Being an engineer by qualification, he has an analytical mind that is driven by logic and not emotion.
In 2009, nobody had expected him to snatch the party ticket from the jaws of Manoranjan Bhakta, an eight time MP who had won the last election with one of the largest margin. But Kuldeep Rai Sharma did achieve that feat. But, he could not sustain the tempo. He reached very late on the scene and failed to achieve the bigger feat; taking the Bhakta loyalists along who would do anything to get him defeated. And they defeated him with a meager margin of 2900 votes.
His focus was never on consolidating the party structure, but gobbling up as many institutions as possible. The party at grass root level were in shambles till a couple of years back. And it took a while for the young Turk to wake up and tighten the belt.
He understood the dynamics of cooperative movement and unseated many goliaths and eventually took control of all unions and federations. He is as of now President or Chairman of as many as 10 to 15 unions or associations.
"Its a strategy of a shrewd politician. He will gradually loosen the grip on associations, federations and unions once he becomes Member of Parliament," said a senior Congressman.
The social service through Cooperative Bank seems to have done wonders for Kuldeep Rai Sharma. It is one asset even his adversary Bishnu Pada Ray does not deny. However, there is wide antipathy among the common account holders of the bank that loans have been sanctioned from the bank without any check and balance. It is also alleged that about Rs 70 crore loans were sanctioned in the last few months. But, Congressmen staunchly believe that the outreach programmes conducted by the bank will be surely translated into votes.
Elections are the time to make up with old foes. One makes foes in the open and at the fag end, finds time and reason to reconcile in secrecy. He made up with Chidambaram, once the Tamil face of Congress. He also patched up with Balakrishnan Nair, a staunch party man repelled due to favouritism by the party led by Kuldeep Rai Sharma. TSG Bhasker, President of Andaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry was his only challenger who gave him tough time. He too seems to be placated to all appearances.
This is the third time, Kuldeep Rai Sharma is going to face the electorate. Huge sympathy of the Islanders especially a group is with him. "Lets give him a chance and see," says a senior Congressman. "This is a do or die situation for Kuldeep," says another Congressman.
All internal differences had been conveniently slipped inside the carpet, and the decision of his candidature was made to look unanimous. There was wide disgruntlement among many senior Congressmen. They make you feel the 'There is No Alternative' (TINA) factor. With drooling faces they accepted his candidature, but won't let you know that.
The grapevine was that resentment among Tamils have become wider. However, Congress claims to have found inroads into the community.
Old and veteran Congressmen who once could not digest Kuldeep Rai Sharma have also started rallying behind him.
Initially BJP's indecisiveness gave Kuldeep time and space to leap ahead. And it also turned to be a windfall for him that Bishnu could not garner the support of his party for the election campaign. The visibility of Congress on the ground too gave it an edge over others.
However, the sudden over-confidence of the party might ring the death knell, if it harps on the mantra that BJP is trying to defeat BJP in the elections. With fragmented Bengali vote, and secure Nicobari vote, once again the 40% of voters in South Andaman may play a major role in the elections. Congress claims to have regained the lost ground in Ferrar Gunj Tehsil. But, how Port Blairians will vote is still an enigma.
It indeed seems to be a close fight with Kuldeep having an edge over Bishnu, but there are other dark horses like AAP and TMC, which might play spoilsport.