A hot seat for blue-blooded royals, a Congress pocket borough and the chief minister’s own backyard — Pratibha Singh, wife of Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh, has all the aces in her armour as she seeks re-election from Mandi.
A home-maker who was content basking in the glory of her husband — her work with Red Cross Society, too, came with her profile as the CM’s wife — Pratibha made her foray into poll politics in 1998 when she lost by more than 1.3 lakh votes to Maheshwar Singh, the scion of erstwhile princely state of Kullu. In 2004, she trumped Maheshwar to become a first-time MP. But her five-year tenure was lacklustre with no major achievement. Even the much-needed public connect was missing, forcing the Congress to once again rely on Virbhadra in 2009 to retain Mandi, which he did by a slender margin.
Her political graph soared after her landslide win in the 2013 byelection. Though her political rivals credit her victory to her clout as the CM’s wife and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failing to field a formidable opponent, with Virbhadra aging and their son too young to don the CM’s mantle, Pratibha’s political clout has been growing, both within the party and the government.Family report card
It has been less than a year since her election in June 2013 — too little time for Mandi to judge her performance. However, with the spoils of power divided within the ruling family, Mandi electorate’s expectations from the CM and his government’s performance will also reflect in Pratibha’s report card. Virbhadra has showered his largesse on the constituency, while Pratibha herself had been meeting union ministers — she visited 19 central ministers regarding projects and issues — and counts many accomplishments, including the afforestation project from the union environment ministry and a water supply scheme for Manali, Kullu and Rampur from the union urban development ministry.
Her tenure as MP this time has been mired in controversy. The opposition BJP has levelled allegations of corruption not just against Virbhadra but also Pratibha and son Vikramaditya — who now heads the Himachal Youth Congress. She has also been accused of concealing information about her income from the Election Commission at the time of filing her nomination papers for the polls. But since Virbhadra and son are in the BJP’s line of fire, Pratibha has so far maintained a stoic silence on the charges.
Though Mandi may miss its MP — her tours have been frequent only in the past six months and she is accused of being inaccessible — her attendance in Parliament is a perfect 100%. She also scored well in the utilisation of MPLAD (local area development) funds. In less than one year, she has spent `5.4 crore on sprucing up Mandi’s link roads, bridges and water supply lines, besides serais, yuvak mandals and mahila bhawans.
The BJP, however, faults the way she used them. “One year is not sufficient to judge anyone’s performance, but Pratibha Singh used her MPLAD funds on political considerations, ignoring public interest,” says Jairam Thakur, former BJP state president and four-time legislator.Barometer of challenge
The BJP had tried to woo Maheshwar into its fold to take on Pratibha in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls but he has refused to bite the bait. The challenge for Pratibha will depend on how formidable is the opponent fielded by the saffron party this time. Though a hot seat for royals, Mandi has also courted the ‘son of the soil’. It was Ganga Singh after Emergency, when Virbhdara faced a near-rout, and later Sukh Ram who remained invincible for several years till he was convicted on corruption charges for a scam during his stint as union telecommunication minister.
Part 32 of 34:
Rattan Singh Ajnala, Khadoor Sahib