Newly-carved Shimla rural seat has hogged the limelight all due to the presence of Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Virbhadra Singh, who is the party candidate from the segment.
Singh shifted to the segment after his traditional Rohru seat was reserved for Scheduled Caste. Singh's entry has sparked off both anxiety and excitement among the voters in the area.
"When Mahmud of Ghazni was carrying raids across India one of our ancestors who feared that Muslim ruler could mercilessly finish our clan fled from Kota in Rajasthan and made Dhami his second home," says staunch Virbhadra supporter 36-year-old Kanwar Jagdeep, a scion of princely state Dhami, which is just 30 km from Shimla town. Jagdeep's family has a good rapport among the residents of villages falling in the earstwhile Dhami state, which was spread over an area of 30 square kilometres. Young Jagdeep swears to side with Virbhadra, who is scion of royal family of erstwhile Bushahr state. "Only Raja sahab can bring change in this area," he says.
The constituency has problems in plenty. Though the constituency adjoins Shimla urban segment but pace of development had been slow here. Nearby Jutogh and Tottu suburbs that are part of Shimla rural still lack proper health facilities. People of nearby nine panchayats have to either travel to Mashobra or Shimla for medical treatment. There is growing demand for opening a multi-specialty hospital in the area. "Lack of medical facilities is the biggest problem we have been facing," says Uttam Singh Kashyap.
The villages falling under the Majthai, Dhamoon, Baghi, Rampuri, Cheogh Chaili, Dhudhalti Pahlal and Neri panchayats have been facing water scarcity. Agriculture and vegetable farming is the mainstay of the locals. "Government in the past has not done much to overcome the water woes in the area," says Ram Swaroop, a resident of Chenawag.
Setting up of a fruit and vegetable market in the area is one of the main demands of the locals. The farmers either have to take their produce to Shoghi or Shimla to sell their produce.
Poor condition of the roads is a major issue. Roads are in bad shape in Sunni area, which prior to delimitation, was part of Kumarsain constituency, represented by Congress legislature party leader Vidya Stokes. Roads are equally bad in Thachi and Darghi Jalog areas. The road connecting Sunni with Luhri that further leads to the outer Seraj area of Kullu district is in a pitiable condition.
Since Virbhadra Singh is busy in electioneering across the state, his son Vikram Aditya is holding the fort for his father in the segment. Vikram is traveling across the length and breadth of the constituency, making an emotional appeal to the voters. "My father chose this constituency so that he can serve the people fo the segment. I am hopeful that you will accept him (Virbhadra Singh) from your heart," says Vikram Aditya. "Your valuable vote will go a long way in making him (Virbhadra) the chief minister forth the sixth time," he says.
Though the constituency is new to him, but Singh, a veteran of many political innings, he is confident that people of the area would vote for him. "People of the area are well aware that I have the responsibility of looking after all the 68 constituencies. I know that they will not take my absence otherwise," Virbhadra told Hindustan Times. Singh has sent out an appeal to voters of the area, urging them not to believe in rumours and malicious campaign launched by his detractors.
Trying his luck on a new turf is not new to Virbhadra, who was first elected to the Parliament from Mahasu. The parliamentary seat was abolished in delimitation exercise in 1971 and Virbhadra shifted to Mandi. He won twice from Mandi in 1971 and 1980, but lost in 1977 during the Janata Party wave.
Singh when returned back to state politics in 1983 fought the assembly election for the first time from Jubbal-Kotkhai-the home turf of former chief minister Ram Lal Thakur. He won from Jubbal-Kotkhai in 1985. The next election Virbhadra chose to contest from Jubbal-Kotkhai and as well as Rohru. Virbhadra lost from Jubbal-Kotkhai, but won from Rohru with an overwhelming margin. Since then Rohru has remained Singh's citadel. He has won five elections from Rohru.
Bharatiya Janata Party candidate 62-year-old Ishwar Rohal, who is currently the chairman of the block development committee, Mashobra, is playing the 'son of the soil' card. "I am not from Rohru and Rampur. I am one amongst you and will stay with you forever," Rohal is seen appealing to voters in the segment. "Virbhadra Singh is not serious about this constituency. He chose rural seat out of compulsion. He wants to groom his son Vikram Adtiya from this seat for future," says Rohal.
The BJP has launched a campaign, urging the voters to vote for Rohal as Dhumal is again going to form the next government. The party is also raking up the issue of corruption charges against Virbhadra.
Other candidates in the fray are Ravi Kumar of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Gaurav Sharma of Himachal Lokhith Party, Kushal Raj of Himachal Swabhiman Party and Prem Chand Thakur, who is contesting as an Independent.
Constituency: Shimla Rural
Total voters: 68,065
Deciding issues: Bad condition of roads, lack of quality medical facilities and water scarcity
X Factor: Five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh is a strong contender for the chief ministership for the sixth time.