Tough road ahead for politicians in remote Himachal areas

April 7th, 2009 - 12:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Manali, April 7 (IANS) Delayed snowfall high up the Himalayan slopes has cheered fruit growers, but politicians contesting the Lok Sabha elections from the Mandi constituency in Himachal Pradesh are distinctly unhappy.
The constituency’s Lahaul valley has been cut off from the rest of the country following heavy snow. Most areas can’t be accessed by road, making campaigning near impossible.

“Helicopter is the only mode of transportation here,” Sher Singh, public relations officer of Lahaul and Spiti district, told IANS.

The entire district, populated mainly by tribals, has been receiving moderate to heavy snow during the past 10 days.

“The road link to the tribal valley through the Rohtang Pass is closed to traffic. Snow clearing is on but is hampered due to snow,” said S.K. Doon of the General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF), a government agency that maintains the Manali-Leh highway.

Last year, the Rohtang Pass was opened to traffic only by mid-May.

“Our first priority is to make the 52-km stretch between Manali and the Rohtang Pass motorable so that links to the Lahaul valley can be restored much before the elections.” Doon said.

Polling for the four Lok Sabha seats in Himachal Pradesh - Shimla, Kangra, Mandi and Hamirpur - is scheduled for May 13.

The sprawling Mandi constituency covers almost two-thirds of Himachal Pradesh. Even in April-May, most people cannot reach many parts without a helicopter.

Congress leader and five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) three-time MP Maheshwar Singh are the main contestants from Mandi. Neither has started public rallies in the tribal areas.

“It’s a tough road ahead for the candidates if the snow continues. Very soon I will start my tour in the interiors of tribal districts,” Virbhadra Singh said.

“If the weather obliges, I will travel by car. Otherwise, helicopter is the only option,” he added.

Though Virbhadra Singh is contesting the Lok Sabha elections after a gap of 29 years, he has travelled to every nook and corner of the constituency as chief minister.

Maheshwar Singh has represented Mandi in 1989, 1998 and 1999.

“We (BJP) started the campaign almost two months before the Congress. Our visit to tribal areas of Lahaul and Spiti is overdue as climatic changes have taken a toll. Some areas are not accessible by road. One has to trek in those treacherous areas,” Maheshwar Singh said.

Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh was elected from Mandi in 2004, defeating Maheshwar Singh by 66,566 votes. Of Mandi’s 1.1 million voters, 145,000 live in tribal areas.

A polling station at Hikkim is located 15,500 feet above sea level in Mandi.

“One third of all polling booths are located above 13,000 feet. The government will provide us helicopters if the weather is hostile,” state chief electoral officer Anil Khachi said.

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