The first-time MP has emerged as the biggest headline grabber after the PM. Who is this doctor from Noida and what makes him tick?
Vivek Avasthi | December 5, 2015
When the young doctor started his practice in Noida, all he had in the name of a setup was a wooden chair, costing '40, and a matching table. A friend noticed and gifted him a revolving chair – which served him for the next 12 years that saw his practice and popularity rise, as Noida metamorphosed from a quaint township to a booming city.
“My father was a teacher in Rajasthan. Our family had shifted to Delhi where we lived in a rented house. At that time Noida was an upcoming township and we bought a small house for just '30,000 there,” recalls Dr Mahesh Sharma. Today, he has come to represent Noida in the Lok Sabha and lives in its upscale Sector 15A. “Noida was a different place then – law and order situation here was bad and condition of roads was pathetic. For the first five years I used to travel in DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) buses.”
The 56-year-old Sharma was born in Manethi village in Alwar district of Rajasthan. His father Kailash Chand Sharma was a schoolteacher and also owned agricultural land. Sharma went to the local school where the medium of education was Hindi. After passing his 8th standard, the family moved to Delhi.
He was attracted to the right-wing ideology at a younger age. “I was 13-and-a-half-year-old when I got involved with the RSS in Delhi.” He first joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the RSS, and later BJP. In 1982, Sharma completed his MBBS degree from University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi.
Building the medicare empire
The next year Sharma started practising medicine from a small 10x10 clinic in Noida’s Sector 19. “My initial days of struggle were difficult. But I never lost hope and very soon I earned the trust of many patients and was doing well,” says Sharma.
After nearly 10 years of practice, he opened a hospital in Noida and named it after his late father – Kailash Hospital. As luck would have it, Noida had only two other hospitals then – Noida Medicare Centre (NMC) and Naveen Upchar Hospital – and both faced unforeseen problems.
The NMC was rocked by a kidney racket; its owner and two doctors were arrested and the hospital’s reputation took a beating. An east Delhi resident named Shaukat Ali and three others had complained that their one kidney each was removed by doctors at NMC without their consent. Meanwhile, Navin Upchar Hospital had to close down due to its management problems. Kailash Hospital was the sole beneficiary of this situation.
However, it would be unfair to attribute the failure of his business rivals as cause for Sharma’s success. Old-timers in Noida recall him as a friendly neighbourhood physician who would listen to their health complaints with patience and also, sometimes, without caring for his consultation fee.
Sharma’s first brush with controversy was in 1997 when IAS officer Neera Yadav, then the Noida authority head, allotted a 4,140 sqm plot for construction of his hospital in Noida. Sharma had been favoured as he was alloted the land meant for residential use. However, the courts – first the Allahabad high court and this year the supreme court – dismissed this allegations against Yadav and Sharma. (Yadav, who went on to become chief secretary of UP, was later found guility of corruption, favouritism and misuse of authority in other cases and sentenced to a jail term.)
In 1999, Sharma opened hospitals in Greater Noida, Jewar (UP), Haridwar, Rajasthan and Delhi. His holdings company Kailash Healthcare Limited is now mulling opening hospitals in small towns like Khurja and Dehradun, and in Sector 71, Noida. In the process, he has retained not only loyal patients but also loyal employees. One of the oldest, and among his most trusted lieutenants, is TV Paully, a Kerala Christian, who has spent over 20 years with the Kailash Hospital. Its deputy manager, Syed Itrat Hussain, popularly known as Khan Saab, has been associated for over 18 years now.
Entry in politics
A popular doctor, a successful entrepreneur and a political activist – Sharma had all that one needs to have friends in high places. Soon, BJP leaders like Rajnath Singh, Kalraj Mishra, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah were part of his friends circle. So, when he was asked by the BJP to contest as party’s candidate from Gautam Budh Nagar (Noida and outskirts) in the 2009 general elections, it did not come as a surprise to anyone.
Sharma has a philosophical take on his electoral debut. “God decides your destiny. I spent almost 25 years in medical profession and on social causes with honesty and dedication. I think God had destined that through politics, I do more for the society and the country.”
Dr Sharma’s family had opposed his entry into electoral politics. “My daughter [Pallavi Sharma, an eye surgeon] was opposed to the very idea of my joining politics as she felt it was not a very good field. My wife [Uma Sharma, a gynaecologist] was also not ready for this. But somehow I convinced them that perhaps it was God’s will and we should accept it.”
Eventually, his wife came around. “She adapted to her multiple responsibilities – looking after our joint family, children and along with working in the hospital,” he says.
Sharma lost his first election – the Lok Sabha 2009 polls – to the Bahujan Samaj Party rival by about 16,000 votes. However, three years later, he won the UP assembly election from the freshly created Noida constituency with a margin of about 27,000 votes.
It was natural for BJP to pick him as a candidate from the Gautam Budh Nagar constituency in the 2014 general elections. The Modi wave helped Sharma win with a whopping margin of 2.80 lakh votes.
Hardly anyone outside UP had heard of Mahesh Sharma’s name till PM Narendra Modi included this first-time MP in his cabinet and gave him three key portfolios as minister of state: culture and tourism (both with independent charge), and civil aviation. Who is behind the meteoric rise of Mahesh Sharma in politics? People close to him credit the RSS ideologue Dr Krishna Gopal Sharma, popularly known as Gopalji, for Sharma’s rise. In 2014, Dr Gopal was in-charge of Lok Sabha election campaign in the two key states of UP and Bihar, where the BJP-led NDA won 104 out of 120 seats. For his feat, Gopalji was made the joint general secretary of the RSS and entrusted with the important task of coordinating with the BJP.
Sharma, who idolises Swami Vivekananda, was always known as an articulate and erudite speaker. However, after becoming an MP and a minister, he made a series of statements which sparked controversies one after another. His remarks, along with words in similar vein from the likes of Giriraj Singh, Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Prachi and other Hindutva leaders, have created a storm. Sharma, thus, is the primary face to be associated with the voices that have led to the ‘intolerance’ backlash – completely changing the political discourse of the country under Modi.
Talking of his agenda on culture, he has said, “We will cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernised and where Indian culture and civilisation need to be restored – be it the history we read, our cultural heritage or our institutes that have been polluted over years.” That was mild, and he was just warming up. In September, he told a TV channel, “Night out for girls ... may be all right elsewhere but it is not part of Indian culture.” When his views were sought on the controversy over renaming Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi, he told a TV channel, “Aurangzeb Road ka nam bhi badal kar ek aise mahapursh ke naam par kiya hai jo Musalman hotey hue bhi itna bada rashtravaadi aur manavtavadi insaan tha – APJ Abdul Kalam, unke naam par kiya gaya hai (The name of Aurangzeb Road has been changed to the name of a great human being who, despite being a Muslim, was such a great nationalist and humanist – APJ Abdul Kalam, we have named it after him).”
A few days later, he was talking to people and press in his constituency, in Dadri, where a Muslim man was lynched by a mob on a rumour that he had eaten beef. The murder, a direct outcome of the anti-beef campaign from the Hindutva fringe, gave a push to a nascent campaign of speaking out against growing divisiveness and intolerance, with writers, social scientists, historians, scientists and artists on protest. On the lynching, the culture minister said, “This should be considered an accident without giving any communal colour to it.” Many were aghast at the term, accident, to describe a mob killing, and the refusal to see the hate politics at work.
Sharma calmly explains his side of the story. He maintains that media has been projecting his views and statements in a distorted and unfair manner. For example, he says he was asked whether the names of Akbar Road and Shahjahan Road should also be changed. He replied that ‘we do not believe in naming and renaming roads in the name of a Hindu or a Muslim and that APJ Abdul Kalam was a great Muslim and a nationalist too’. He says his statement was shortened and edited leading to its skewed interpretation.
On cultural cleansing and his stand against the ‘western’ culture, Sharma says, “You are wearing a coat and I am wearing a kurta pyjama. Have I told you not to wear a coat and dress like me? You may have different eating habits than mine; have I ever objected to your habits and asked you to follow my habits? I have never ever imposed my views and thoughts on anyone, but as culture minister whatever I have said is just a piece of advice: take it or leave it.”
The minister adds, “Our constitution talks of taking all Indians together and our sanskriti (culture)is that of jio aur jeene do (live and let live), of sarva dharm sambhava (equality of all faiths) and of vasudhaiva kutumbakam (The whole world is one family). I am neither a police authority nor do I believe in moral policing. As culture minister I will continue to propagate Indian culture which I think is my moral duty as well.”
Sharma also dismissed media reports that he was admonished by BJP president Amit Shah for his statements. “That day I was neither called by the party president nor did I go to see him. Who is creating this news and why? Should I call a press conference to issue a rebuttal every time an incorrect news comes out?”
In what could be termed as an unlikely coincidence or mistiming, the 10, Rajaji Marg bungalow, where Abdul Kalam had lived, was allotted to Sharma within days of his remarks about the former president. The type 8 bungalow – the top category – is generally allotted to a cabinet minister and not to junior ministers or first-time MPs. It was alluded that Sharma was rewarded for his “communal talk”.
Sharma issued a simple rejoinder. “It had been 18 months since I was elected MP and made minister, and yet I was not allotted a house. I had been given 7, Thyagaraja Marg, which was not vacated by the occupant. Thus, 62 out of the 63 ministers had got government accommodation, and I was the only one left out. But no one said anything then.”
Later, urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu also supported Sharma and said he had been allocated the only available house as per rules and not as a favour.
Sharma recently faced an embarrasing situation when his own senior colleague issued a denial after his claim that the Modi government had given a go-ahead for an airport at Jewar, part of his constituency. For him the project could be a clincher in the UP assembly elections in 2017. Civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had to issue a denial saying no such proposal had been okayed by his ministry.
However, Sharma nonchalantly says, “The proposal (for airport) has to come from the state government and I am told that the present CM, Akhilesh Yadav, has written to PM Modi in this regard. And I and my ministry are going to pursue the creation of Jewar airport with all sincerity and seriousness.”
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