By Vishal Gulati, Mandi (Himachal Pradesh), April 1 IANS | 5 months ago

It's being made out to be a political battle between a 'rani' (queen) and an 'aam admi' (commoner).


Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Ram Swaroop Sharma from the Mandi parliamentary constituency is busy decrying his Congress rival and two-time MP Pratibha Singh, wife of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, for her royal bloodline.

"Yeh Raja aur Rani hai, aur main ek aam aadmi hu (They are the royal couple and I am a common man)," Sharma, who is in the electoral fray for the first time, tells voters.

"Election ke baad yeh yahan nahin rahenge, aur main aap ke sath hi rahunga (After the elections they will forget you, but I will be there for you)," he says.

Pratibha Singh belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Keonthal state and has been retained in this constituency that will see polling along with three others May 7. This seat has mostly been a safe bet for the descendants of the royal families, who have won it 11 times in the last 15 parliamentary elections.

The 57-year-old Congress candidate believes the Lok Sabha poll will also be a vote on the performance of her party's 15-month old government in the state. When asked about the issues dominating the elections, Pratibha Singh told IANS: "Local issues are taking precedence over national ones."

Pratibha Singh said the state has achieved milestones in the fields of education, health, infrastructure development and giving financial benefits to the government with the assistance of the central government.

But Sharma is banking on BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's wave and Pratibha Singh's non-performance in the constituency to garner votes.

"The party has given a chance to a party worker. I have never been into electoral politics. During my stint with the party's organisation in various capacities, I got an opportunity to work at the grassroots. I have travelled in the constituency even on a scooter," 55-year-old Sharma told IANS.

The Mandi parliamentary constituency, which includes the tribal-dominated assembly constituencies of Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti and Bharmour, is one of the toughest and largest constituencies in India after Barmer in Rajasthan.

Pratibha Singh won the Mandi parliamentary bypoll in May last year by defeating her nearest rival Jai Ram Thakur, a BJP legislator and former cabinet minister, by 136,724 votes.

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, popularly known as 'Raja Saab' as he was born heir into the erstwhile princely state of Bushahr, has started a tour of the constituency, while senior BJP leaders, including two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, are yet to hit the road.

Virbhadra Singh, who won the Mandi seat thrice (in 1971, 1980 and 2009) and lost once (in 1977), is missing no opportunity to take a jibe at Modi.

Addressing rallies, the chief minister said: "By chanting 'Har Har Modi' instead of 'Har Har Mahadev' the BJP is giving an impression as if Modi is the creator of the universe."

Among the 1.1 million voters in the Mandi constituency that shares the boundary with China, 145,000 are living in tribal areas that are still marooned in snow.

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur of the erstwhile royal family of Kapurthala won the seat in independent India's first elections in 1952.

The dominance of the royal candidates was broken in 1977 when Ganga Singh Thakur, a Janata Party candidate, won the election.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

(Posted on 01-04-2014)