Royal descendants to battle it out in Himachal’s Mandi

March 27th, 2009 - 1:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Vishal Gulati
Mandi (Himachal Pradesh), March 27 (IANS) Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi constituency is set to witness a battle royale in the coming Lok Sabha elections with two candidates from erstwhile princely families crossing swords.

Congress leader and five-time former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who belongs to the former royal family of Bushehr state, will face Maheshwar Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) three-time MP and scion of the erstwhile Kullu ruling family. The two are distantly related.

Himachal Pradesh will go to the polls for its four Lok Sabha seats May 13.

While Virbhadra Singh is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Mandi after a gap of 29 years, Maheshwar Singh is testing his luck for the fifth time, the fourth time in a row.

Virbhadra Singh, a former chief minister, has won the seat twice (in 1971 and 1980) and lost once (1977), while Maheshwar Singh won it thrice (in 1989, 1998 and 1999) and lost twice (1991 and 2004).

This seat has mostly been a safe bet for the descendants of the royal families, who have won it 10 times in the 14 parliamentary elections.

Sitting MP Pratibha Singh, the wife of Virbhadra Singh, is also from a royal family.

“It (Mandi seat) has always remained erstwhile rulers’ strongest political fortress,” said P.C. Lohumi, a political analyst. “This time again, a descendant of a princely state will rule Mandi.”

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur of the erstwhile royal family of Kapurthala won the seat in independent India’s first elections in 1952.

The dominance of the royal candidates was broken in 1977 when Ganga Singh Thakur, a Janata Party candidate, won the election.

Former telecommunication minister Sukh Ram, popularly known as “Panditji” in his hometown Mandi, was the second leader from outside a royal family to win the seat in the 1984 poll and repeated his feat in the 1991 and 1996 elections.

The Mandi parliamentary constituency, which includes the tribal-dominated assembly constituencies of Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti and Bharmour, is one of the toughest and largest constituencies in the country.

Among the 1.1 million voters in the constituency, 145,000 are living in tribal areas.

“It is almost two-thirds of the entire hill state. Electors in Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti and Bharmour are still marooned in a cold desert,” Himachal Pradesh’s chief electoral officer (CEO) Anil Khachi said.

Virbhadra Singh, called “Raja Saab” by party men and others, is quite confident of winning, citing his travel to almost every nook and corner of the state both as chief minister and as parliamentarian.

“I am visiting each and every village to understand the pulse of the voters. Very soon I will start my tour in interiors of tribal districts,” he said.

The BJP candidate is also optimistic. He is banking on the results of the 2007 state assembly elections in which the party got a majority, and did particularly well in the tribal-dominated areas.

“I started my poll campaign almost two months before my arch rival Virbhadra Singh. This will definitely give me an edge,” Maheshwar Singh said.

“This time Virbhadra Singh’s prestige and pride are at stake as the election will be a referendum on the BJP government’s performance over the past one year and will consolidate his position within the party,” said Lohumi.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at

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