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Kangna's battleground Mandi once 'ruled' by royal bloodline

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Kangna's battleground Mandi once 'ruled' by royal bloodline

Mandi, March 26 (Ajit Weekly News) Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi constituency from where BJP has fielded actress Kangna Ranaut, who debuts as a politician, is one such seat that has witnessed a battle royale many a time in the Lok Sabha elections since Independence with candidates from erstwhile princely families crossing swords.

For residents of the sprawling Mandi constituency, one of the toughest and covers almost two-thirds of the state, they have a special place in the history of democracy in independent India as they were months ahead of the rest of the nation in exercising franchise in the first general elections in 1951-52. This was done to ensure that snowfall did not deprive the tribals of the privilege of voting.

Currently, many hamlets dotted on Himalayan heights in the constituency marooned in snow.

This seat has mostly been a safe bet for the descendants of the royal families, who have won it 12 times in the last 16 parliamentary elections. The only exceptions were Congress veterans Sukh Ram and Ram Sawroop Sharma.

The main battle lines have always been between the BJP and the Congress, who fight for their prestige. This is the only seat in the state where the Left front fields a candidate.

The royal bloodline MPs who represented this seat the maximum times were Congress veteran Virbhadra Singh, now dead, and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Maheshwar Singh.

The constituency, previously named Mahasu, was represented by Amrit Kaur of the erstwhile Patiala state in 1952. Later, Joginder Sen of the erstwhile Mandi state represented the seat till 1962, and then Lalit Sen of the erstwhile Suket state was elected in 1967.

As per records of the election department, Shyam Saran was among those voters at the polling booth in the constituency’s Chini village on October 25, 1951. Chini was later rechristened as Kalpa in the Kinnaur district.

Virbhadra Singh, who was popularly known as ‘Raja Saab’ as he was born heir into the erstwhile princely state of Bushahr, has represented Mandi thrice in 1971, 1980 and 2009, while Maheshwar Singh represented Mandi in 1989, 1998 and 1999.

Virbhadra Singh’s wife, Pratibha Singh, who belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Keonthal state, is the sitting Congress MP. She is a three-time MP from Mandi.

This time she has announced not to enter the fray, despite her party being at the helm in the state, citing the ground situation is not favourable.

Voting for the four Lok Sabha seats — Kangra, Mandi, Hamirpur and Shimla (reserved), all currently held by the BJP, will be held in a single phase on June 1. By-elections to six Assembly seats, all held by the Congress, will be held simultaneously.

The Mandi constituency, which includes the tribal-dominated assembly constituencies of Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Bharmour, is one of the toughest and largest constituencies in India after Barmer in Rajasthan. Many of the polling booths are located at altitudes above 13,000 feet.

In 2014 polls, riding on prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s wave BJP’s ‘commoner’ candidate Ram Swaroop Sharma defeated Pratibha Singh. He retained his seat in 2019 too.

In the 2021 Mandi by-poll parliamentary seat, necessitated by the death of Sharma, the BJP had pitted Brigadier Khushal Thakur (retired), a decorated officer who played a crucial in the 1999 Kargil war, against Pratibha Singh, who won the seat largely in the sympathy wave after the passing away of her husband, Virbhadra Singh, who had left behind a rich political legacy.

Of Mandi’s nearly 1.1 million voters, 145,000 live in remote areas.

Tashigang in Lahaul-Spiti district is the highest polling station in the world, located at a height of 15,256 feet, followed by Nako (12,010 feet) and Chasak Bhatouri (11,302 feet), all parts of the Mandi seat.

Naresh Bodh, a school teacher from Chang Ho village in Kinnaur, told Ajit Weekly News: “My forefathers used to trudge over 30 km of rugged mountainous terrain to reach the nearby polling station. Now the polling station is located in our area.”

“At that time too, there was enthusiasm among the voters despite most of them were illiterate,” he said, adding “The election bustle is totally a miss here. We expect it will pick with the melting of snow and opening of land routes.”

The high-altitude polling station Hikkim, which is 15,500 feet above sea level, is also located in this constituency.

“Large parts in Lahaul valley are still cut off from the rest of the country owing to this month’s heavy snow,” a senior official posted at Keylong, the district headquarters of Lahaul-Spiti, told Ajit Weekly News over the phone.

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

Former telecommunication minister Sukh Ram, who was popularly known as ‘Panditji’ in his hometown Mandi, was the second leader from outside a royal family to win the seat in the 1984 poll and repeated his feat in the 1991 and 1996 elections.

Mandi had remained Virbhadra Singh’s turf for long. After making it to the Lok Sabha for the first time by winning the Mahasu Parliamentary seat in 1962 and then again in 1967, Virbhadra Singh switched to the Mandi in 1971 and registered a win. He, however, lost the seat in 1977 but was again elected from the constituency in 1980 and later in 2009.

Mandi is the home district of BJP leader and former chief minister Jai Ram Thakur.

Responding to a derogatory post by Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate on the BJP candidate’s electoral debut, Thakur said Kangana Ranaut is the daughter of Dev Bhoomi Himachal and the remark is extremely unfortunate.

“Kangana Ranaut is the daughter of Mandi, called Chhoti Kashi. She has brought glory to Himachal and Mandi in the film industry. Such comments against her will not be tolerated at all,” he wrote on X.

He said the insult of Kangana Ranaut is an insult to the entire Himachal and the entire womenfolk.

“The people of Devbhoomi will not forgive this insult to Mandi’s daughter by a woman leader of the Congress. In the Lok Sabha elections, the people of Mandi and Himachal will give a befitting reply to the Congress for their actions,” he added.

The family of Kangna is settled at Bhambla village near Hamirpur town, some 200 km from the state capital Shimla.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])

–Ajit Weekly News

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