Mandi: Where a royal scion is locked in battle with a Bollywood star - Hindustan Times
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Mandi: Where a royal scion is locked in battle with a Bollywood star

May 29, 2024 08:59 PM IST

Nestled in the heart of Himachal, the constituency boasts starkly contrasting landscapes ranging from hot and humid lush green valleys to towering mountains.

The Mandi parliamentary constituency in Himachal Pradesh (HP) is set for an electoral battle between Bollywood actress and BJP candidate Kangana Ranaut and Congress candidate Vikramaditya Singh, easily making it one of the most high-profile contests in the state.

Congress candidate Vikramaditya Singh(PTI) PREMIUM
Congress candidate Vikramaditya Singh(PTI)

It will not be an easy battle for Ranaut who is aiming for her first electoral victory. Her opponent Singh, a scion of the Bushahr royal family, is the son of former six-time HP chief minister Virbhadra Singh and sitting Mandi MP Pratibha Singh: Given his family background, Singh has a strong support base in the constituency.

Singh, the incumbent PwD minister in the state, is also the richest candidate in the fray in Himachal while his rival is a close second in terms of personal assets.

Spread over six districts — Mandi, Chamba, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti and Shimla — the Mandi parliamentary constituency is one of the country’s largest by area. Nestled in the heart of Himachal, the constituency boasts starkly contrasting landscapes ranging from hot and humid lush green valleys to towering mountains.

While Singh’s campaign has focused on local issues, Ranaut has mostly made her campaign Modi-centric and focused on BJP’s achievements at the Centre in the last 10 years. From the abolition of triple talaq to the passage of the Women Reservation Bill in parliament last year and schemes like Ujjwala Yojana, she has frequently highlighted schemes Modi launched in her campaign.

Ranaut also ran a high-pitched campaign against Congress at the national level and has frequently criticised party leader Rahul Gandhi.

She has pitched herself as “Mandi Ki Beti” (daughter of Mandi) to negate the criticism of being an outsider.

Singh’s campaign, on the other hand, has been full of promises, one of which is to make Mandi (city) a smart city and improve road and connectivity infrastructure including the construction of tunnels across the parliamentary constituency.

Intense verbal duels

The Mandi parliamentary constituency has witnessed a bitter verbal duel between the two since their candidature was announced.

For example, in a recent swipe, Singh said Ranaut’s recent remarks were providing strong competition to comedian Kapil Sharma.

He has also attacked her for defaming the deity culture, even going on to say that the temples visited by her needed to be cleaned. In response, Ranaut has said Singh was only working to instigate people’s religious sentiments against her.

The Congress leader has maintained that his opponent lacks vision for Mandi’s development and was only resorting to personal attacks during the campaigning.

Notably, Ranaut has called Singh a “spoiled prince (bigda hua shehzada) who received ancestral inheritance” besides targeting both Singh and his mother, Pratibha Singh, for “being addicted to power”.

The Congress party recently filed a complaint against her to the Election Commission for using derogatory remarks against Singh from public platforms.

Close fight on the cards in Mandi

The contest between Singh and Ranaut is turning out to be the most closely tracked-fight in the state.

Professor Ashutosh Kumar from the political science department at Panjab University, Chandigarh, called the contest in Mandi “…fierce, close and interesting to watch”.

“Kangana Ranaut is a famous actress; her popularity, charisma and connection with women may work in her favour. She will also encash on the Modi factor. On the other hand, Vikramaditya Singh comes from a Royal background and Mandi is his family stronghold and his work during the disaster last year may work in his favour. He has done quite well as a minister in the state,” Kumar, who is also the first visiting professor to the TN Seshan Chair at India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management (IIIDEM), New Delhi, said.

Kumar said Ranaut has been vocal on social media and has a history of using strong language against the liberal left. “While Kangana Ranaut has largely campaigned on national issues, Vikramaditya Singh has focused mainly on local issues. He is not a weak candidate and Virbhadra Singh’s legacy will help him as well. All these factors make it an interesting contest to watch,” he said.

What do voters say?

Mandi was among the worst affected areas when heavy rain-triggered landslides struck the state, claiming the lives of over 500 people, last year. According to government estimates, the state suffered a loss of around 12,000 crore. As the first election after the disaster occurred last year, it is clearly a major poll issue.

Deshraj, an advocate and resident of the Tungal area in Mandi, said, “We have noticed that local issues are missing from Kangana Ranaut's campaign. She does not seem to be a serious candidate. The biggest poll issue is the disaster that struck Himachal last year, with Mandi being the worst affected. The Centre did not provide the necessary assistance to the state and did not meet the aspirations of the people.”

Hari Singh Dogra, retired principal chief conservator of forests, who is a resident of Mandi town said that the people of Mandi are educated and are politically aware. “Both the candidates are popular here and enjoy the legacy of their forefathers. Kangana seems strong in areas around Mandi city while Vikramaditya given his background has an edge in areas like Rampur, Kinnaur, Anni, Lahaul-Spiti and Bharmour,” he said.

“Last year’s disaster will also play a part during the elections and those who stood by people during tough times will have an upper hand,” he said, adding that Mandi residents, when choosing a candidate, will also think about the leader who will remain accessible after the election.

Mandi’s electoral history and its royal connections

Since 1952, the Congress has won in Mandi 13 times with both Virbhadra Singh and Pratibha Singh winning thrice.

From 2004 to 2021, there have been four general elections and two by-elections in Mandi and the Congress has had a significant presence in these elections, winning four times.

Mandi parliamentary constituency is often dubbed a battleground for the royalty. Amrit Kaur, India’s first health minister belonged to the royal family of Kapurthala. She was elected to the Lok Sabha from Mandi in 1952. The 1957 election saw a high-stakes battle between the eighth ruler of Mandi and Congress candidate Joginder Sen Bahadur and another “royal”, Anand Chand, the scion of the erstwhile Bilaspur state. The former won the battle.

In 1971, Virbhadra Singh, who later went on to become one of the tallest political figures in state politics, made his way to the Parliament from the seat.

Pratibha Singh, wife of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls in 1998 but won in 2004 when her husband was the chief minister. In 2009, Virbhadra won from Mandi but resigned in 2012 to become the CM again, and his wife won the by-election in 2013. She lost to BJP’s Ram Swaroop in 2014. After the death of Ram Swaroop, who had won from Mandi again in 2019, in March 2021, Pratibha Singh won the by-election in November 2021.

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