Away from the din and bustle of Himachal Pradesh politics, Malana, a village with an all powerful panchayat, is busy repeating its age-old tradition of asking the local deity which candidate to vote for.
In this sleepy village located in the north east of Kullu valley, the panchayat, driven by deity Jamlu Devta, still decides the fate of contestants in the poll fray and the voters just follow.
To those outside, Malana's story may sound a little incomprehensible but in reality, this village even now follows its unique system of decision-making with the 'upper house' (Jaisthang) and the 'lower house' (Kanishtha) taking key calls like which party to back during elections.
The final word vests with the upper house which the village panchayat represents. Even the panchayat invokes the deity before announcing the decision on political support during poll time.
Around 1,700 villagers of Malana have 715 votes. But the village, located at a height of 3,029 metres above the sea level, has not yet decided who to back. "We are yet to take the decision for the November 4 elections. The all powerful panchayat will decide who to support," Surjan, the village pujari, told PTI. Himachal has a 68-member assembly.
He said Jaisthang comprises the "Kardar", the local deity's administrator, and "Gur", the deity's spokesman.
"The pujari and eight prominent members of the village also form part of the panchayat. This body invokes Jamlu Devta before declaring its election decision," Surjan said, adding that all other decisions in the village are made with mutual understanding within the Malanis (inhabitants).
Asked if the frenzy of electioneering impacts Malana's decisions ever, Surjan said, "Malanis guard their traditions fiercely and take their own decisions. The Lord alone can guide them. One of our customs is we never divide our land.
Village land is collectively owned by all of us as one family."
As the Malana priest, Surjan himself must practice extreme discipline. Local villager Dilu Ram said, "When the pujari takes Malani locals, especially women, for Dussehra celebrations to Kullu, he can't drink a drop of water outside."
Such are local traditions that the priest is not even supposed to wear anything made of leather. "We must wear special shoes made of straw drawn from cannabis plant which grows in abundance here," Surjan said.
Though largely oblivious to the electioneering going on in the rest of Himachal, Malanis are extremely enthusiastic about voting.
Village history shows that Malana has generally witnessed over 80 per cent polling. "Normally all do exercise their franchise, except for those who are away or have to stay back for village safety," said the diety administrator Brisht Ram, popularly called Brishtu.
Shukru, the old Kardar of Malana and father of Brisht Ram, recently relinquished his position after surgery as one is not considered fit to serve the deity after surgery.