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Constituency Watch: It’s BJP’s ‘stardom’ vs Congress’ ‘royalty’ in Himachal’s Mandi

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Mandi, April 16:  In a unique electoral showdown in Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi parliamentary constituency, the battleground shifts between “royalty” and “stardom”, as Congress legislator Vikramaditya Singh, the scion of the erstwhile royal family, challenges Bollywood’s queen, Kangana Ranaut.

Amidst the clash of heritage and stardom, the sprawling constituency, one of the toughest and covers almost two-thirds of the state, braces for a riveting electoral spectacle.

This seat is currently represented by Pratibha Singh, the mother of Vikramaditya who belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Keonthal state. She’s a three-time MP from Mandi.

She declined to re-enter the fray, saying senior party leaders had proposed Vikramaditya’s name as they were of the opinion that “he’s young, energetic and a good orator with influence over the youth and will be a good competitor for Kangana”.

Political observers told IANS: “Kangana, who too belongs to the hill state, has a slight edge over Vikramaditya, who largely banks on his rich family political legacy, as she started her election campaign much ahead of the main archrival. The latter’s candidature was cleared on April 13. Before that, there was only a war of words between them that got personal and dirty too — like ‘chotta Pappu’ and ‘beef eater’.”

Two-time legislator Vikramaditya, 35, who describes Kangana, 37, as his “badi behan” (elder sister), is the Public Works Minister in the state government led by Sukhvinder Sukhu, while Kangana is making her political debut.

Mandi is the home district of BJP leader Jai Ram Thakur, the first Himachal Chief Minister from Mandi. In most of the election meetings and during campaigning, he’s accompanying Kangana.

“This is a battle of prestige for Jai Ram Thakur as he has to establish his credibility by ensuring the victory of the BJP candidate, who is a greenhorn and caught in a straight fight with a seasoned politician family which commands respect in the entire state,” a political observer told IANS.

Thakur contested the assembly election in 1998 and since then, consecutively won all the six assembly elections with a huge margin. However, he lost the Mandi parliamentary by-poll to Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh by 1.36 lakh votes in 2013. Earlier, the seat was represented by Pratibha Singh’s husband, who resigned following his election to the state assembly in December 2012.

Mandi had remained a political battleground for long for Congress veteran and six-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh, the father of Vikramaditya. 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 also the lone seat where the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is also in the fray.

Kangana belongs to Bhambla village near Hamirpur town, some 200 km from the state capital Shimla. She owns a cottage in the picturesque tourist resort Manali, which is part of the Mandi parliamentary constituency.

In his election meetings, former Chief Minister Thakur, whose focus is currently to ensure win of the Mandi seat, is often quoted as saying, “Kangana is the daughter of Mandi, which is called Chhoti Kashi. She has brought glory to Himachal and Mandi in the film industry.”

For Thakur, who rose from the ranks and is known for his humble and low-profile stature, it is a do-or-die battle to won the Mandi seat and that too with the highest margin in the state, admitted a senior BJP leader, saying “that is why he’s devoting most of his time in Mandi in comparison to three other seats to ensure the maximum lead”.

Besides the Mandi seat, which includes Kullu, Mandi and some areas of Chamba and Shimla districts, besides the tribal-dominated Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti, the other three constituencies in the state are Shimla (reserved), Kangra and Hamirpur, which will go to the polls on June 1.

Historically, the Mandi constituency has favoured scions of erstwhile princely states, electing “royals” in 13 out of 19 elections, including two bypolls since 1952.

In the 2021 Mandi by-poll, necessitated by the death of Ram Swaroop 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.

With the electorate, traditionally in the Lok Sabha polls, favouring the party at the helm in the state, these elections are being seen as a referendum on Himachal Pradesh’s 16-month-old Congress government.

The Congress wrested the state from the BJP in December 2022, winning 40 seats in the 68-member Assembly, reducing the BJP to 25.

IANS

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