Virbhadra’s hot seat: It’s Raja vs ‘praja’ in the battle of Arki | assembly elections | HP 2017 | Hindustan Times
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Virbhadra’s hot seat: It’s Raja vs ‘praja’ in the battle of Arki

Roshan Lal Sharma, an ex-serviceman, claims Raja Virbhadra Singh has the support of the 12 panchayats in Doon and Nalagarh that were included in Arki during the latest delimitation.

HimachalPradeshElection2017 Updated: Nov 08, 2017 16:10 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Rattan Singh Pal and Virbhadra Singh.
Rattan Singh Pal and Virbhadra Singh. (HT Photo)

“The youth are with Modi ji, but some elders are still keen on the Raja,” Priyanka, a first-time voter from Manjhu village smiles wryly as she sums up the state of Arki, a dusty constituency in Solan district, which was thrust into limelight after Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, 83, decided to make it his battleground. With just a few hours left for canvassing, the CM, who has visited this constituency just once to file his nomination, is back to make a final pitch at the Kunihar stadium named after his late father, Maharaja Padam Singh.

Members of panchayats across the 140-km length of Arki are pouring in to hear the CM, who says it’s only they, not Prime Minister Narendra Modi who can remove or retain him.

Roshan Lal Sharma, an ex-serviceman who is here from Doon, claims the Raja has the support of the 12 panchayats in Doon and Nalagarh that were included in Arki during the latest delimitation.

“It’s all bunkum,” claims Ratan Singh Pal, the newbie BJP candidate canvassing in a village near Arki, the town from which the constituency takes its name.

“I have visited 50 of the 57 gram panchayats in my constituency, and have got a rousing response. The rajas became history in 1947, the people of Arki may be poor, but they don’t want to be enslaved by a raja, they prefer me, a Bhumiputra (son of the soil),” he thunders, saying he is also a small farmer like 60% of the voters.

Pawan Saini, BJP poll in-charge of Arki and MLA from Ladwa in Haryana, his red tikka gleaming, claims the Congress has already conceded defeat.

“Where are their star campaigners? Capt Amarinder who had to canvass for the Raja today also cancelled his trip. Come December 18 and it will be, “Ek tha raja, ek thi rani, dono haare, khatam kahani (once upon a time, there was a king and queen, they both lost, and that was the end of the story).”

Unlike the Congress, whose campaign was headed by the CM’s wife Pratibha Singh and the local leaders, BJP has been supporting its candidate with bigwigs like Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and home minister Rajnath Singh.

Will be a cakewalk: Cong

Rajendra Thakur, the prime mover of the Congress campaign in Arki, claims that Virbhadra made a calculated decision about contesting from Arki, based on poll equations.

“BJP’s Govind Ram represented Arki in the assembly in the last two terms. This time, they have given the ticket to a newcomer, leading to resentment in their party. The Congress, which used to lose because of its divisions, is now united,” he says. He also claims that people are excited at having a CM candidate amidst them.

Govind Ram’s son Umesh Sharma, however, rubbishes the charges of infighting. “My father has been associated with BJP since 1998, he is 100% with Pal.”

That Virbhadra has been eyeing Arki for a while is evident from the slew of development projects it’s seen since the beginning of this year. They include the stadium at Kuniar and three degree colleges.

But, waiting to take a bus to Darlaghat from Arki, the trio of Pushpender Singh, Neelam Thakur and Saroj, all undergraduate students, roll their eyes the moment you mention the colleges. “They are an eyewash, they have no staff and our lecturers now have to shuttle between the old and new colleges. So instead of benefiting us, this move is hurting us,” fumed Pushpender, telling you about a Maths teacher who sought a transfer after being rendered a ‘football’.

They aren’t impressed with Virbhadra’s overtures. “There are no buses for us, no water for farmers and no proper roads. And now he wants our votes,” says Neelam, who’s all for ‘Modi ji’.

Locals are smarting, claims BJP

Gaurav Gupta, the IT cell incharge of the BJP, claims the locals are still smarting at Virbhadra’s outburst in 2014, when he told a gathering who didn’t wait for him, that he would never set foot in the town. “His wife also did not campaign here,” he claims.

While the BJP claims the PM is swinging votes their way, the Congress says he will cause their win.

Thakur, of the Congress, says thanks to GST, demonetisation, and saffronisation, traders and intellectuals, who had always chosen the BJP, were now with the Congress.

But the three women at a bus stop near the Government Degree College, Arki, have nothing but praise for Modi. “Only those with black money are feeling the pinch, he cares for us,” says Kusum Devi. “What about the Gudia case? How can we vote for a man who shielded the culprits?,” she adds.