Polls 2024: In Mandi, Kangana And Vikramaditya Slug It Out

Polls 2024: In Mandi, Kangana And Vikramaditya Slug It Out

Royalty is pitched against celebrity in this beautiful hill town of Himachal Pradesh

Rashme SehgalUpdated: Sunday, May 26, 2024, 10:44 PM IST
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Kangana Ranaut | Instagram

Royalty is pitched against celebrity. The question upper most on the lips of every resident of this beautiful hill town of Mandi in Himachal Pradesh is who will emerge the winner. Will Bollywood celeb Kangana Ranaut — who right through this campaign has projected herself as “Mandi’s daughter”, coming from the small village of Bhamla — be able to pull the rug out from under the feet of Vikramaditya Singh, scion of the erstwhile Rampur family and son of six-time chief minister Virbadhra Singh.

Both candidates are filthy rich and have assets running into crores. That has not stopped Ranaut from calling Singh a “bigda hua shehzada” (spoilt prince) and chhota pappu, the other Pappu is a derogative reference made to Rahul Gandhi who is referred to derogatorily as shehzada.

Singh retorts by calling her a “political tourist” who has taken a month- long sabbatical from Bollywood and will pack her bags and return to Bollywood on June 4. Not one to be cowed down, Ranaut does not hesitate to state that if she is offered a meaty role, she would take it but if she was offered a ministership, she would concentrate on her ministry and would perforce steer clear of Bollywood.

Ranaut’s reference is very clear. If Smriti Irani could be offered a key ministry after she fought her first Lok Sabha election from Amethi in 2014 then why not her? After like Irani, if she defeats Singh, she too would emerge as a giant killer.

Ranaut carries with her a great deal of baggage. Not one to shy away from controversies, she has not hesitated to hit out at some of the established icons of Bollywood. Nor does she hesitate to make short shrift of history and believes the Azad Hind Fauj leader Subhash Chandra Bose was the first prime minister of India and not Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and that the azaadi gained in 1947 was the “bheek wali azaadi” and our real independence was achieved in 2014, no guessing under who.

During her campaign, she has called prime minister Modi an ansh (part) of Lord Ram and Lord Vishnu and would have waded into many more controversies were it not for having received clear instructions from BJP handlers asking her to stick to one-line statements and focus on issues like the work of the Modi government or what steps she will take (if elected) to empower the women of her constituency.

She is accompanied by senior leaders who keep giving her tips during the course of the campaign. But she is not one to follow advice very closely. When BJP president JP Nadda informed her that he was there to provide her with “necessary guidance”, she is said to have retorted that she received her orders directly from the PMO.

Her contradictory stances are notorious. In 2021, she had declared she did not want to contest from Himachal because it had a small population of 60/ 70 lakhs but during the course of a recent interview to Times Now, she declared she had been offered a ticket in 2019 from Madhya Pradesh which she declined because she did not have an emotional connect with that state. “Mandi, on the contrary, is the place to which I belong” is a refrain repeated several times in her campaign.

Singh is far more savvy than Ranaut and has been a two-time MLA from Shimla (rural) assembly constituency. His mother Pratibha Singh is the sitting MP from Mandi and the Congress state unit president.

Singh’s problem is that he cannot match her celebrity status or the organisational machinery that has been put to her disposal in this large constituency comprising 18 assembly segments.

Having parachuted to this constituency, Ranaut has ruffled many feathers in the BJP camp and Singh alludes to this in his speeches emphasising how in a recent speech Kangana made in Manali, she had overshadowed the entire state leadership. “The BJP state leadership is feeling threatened by her controversial outbursts,” he said.

Singh repeats in his speeches how his rival may hog the limelight but “it is your work and service to people that gets you support and not the celebrity tag. I have risen above political lines in matters of development as a minister of public works I was successful in getting Rs 3000 crore for development work from the centre”.

He has repeatedly asked in his campaign speeches “where was Ms Kangana when the state was hit by its worst-ever monsoon disaster? What was her contribution to the welfare of Mandi and to HP during those difficult weeks?”

As the campaign has entered its last stages and despite all the BJP’s attempts to rein in her speech, a few days ago, Ranaut declared in a meeting in Pangi, “Khooni panje ko jala kar uski raakh se Pradesh ko saaf karna hai.” (We must burn down the bloody hand and use its ashes to clean the state). The Congress is referred to as maha choron ki party (a party of big thieves) and Singh as maha chor (big thief).

Singh hits back and states that Himachalis will never tolerate such language and that elections should be contested on public issues and not by resorting to “filthy language”.

What does the public think of these jabs and counter jabs? Himachal based political analyst MPS Rana says he has never seen an election in his state where “this kind of language has been used”.

Naresh Kumar, who owns a tea shop at Bhoothnath Bazaar in Mandi refuses to commit himself. “Kangana has brought glamour to the election but she has hardly spent time in Mandi. Rather, it is Raja Saheb who has his roots here and will be with us when we need him. But elections are difficult to predict,” he claims.

Women voters have faith in Kangana and believe she will help introduce pro-women schemes. Simi Kumari, a school teacher teaching in a private school admits, “I feel proud of Kangana ji’s achievements. She carries herself so well.”

Several women claim they take bets about which colour Himachali cap she will wear on which day and believes she is promoting their traditional culture in a big way. “We see her as the daughter of the mountains,” said 62-year-old Neena Chauhan from Seraj.

Her much repeated statement that she was considered an outsider in Bollywood where people mocked at her English also strikes a chord with the women folk especially since the “Pahadi beti” is now being given a chance to work for the people here.

But the farmers of the state are in no mood to forgive and forget. During the entire farmers movement against the three anti-farmer laws, Kangana had described farmers as “terrorists”, Khalistanis and also as “anti-social elements”. Angry farmers shouting slogans and waving flags had gheraoed her car in Kirtarpur Sahib in Punjab in 2021 to which she had claimed on Instagram, “I have been surrounded by a mob here. They are abusing me and threatening to kill me.” Presently, the farmers of Himachal are supporting the Samyukt Kisan Manch and have demanded an apology from Kangana for her anti-farmer remarks.

The mystery of Varun Gandhi’s failure to get a ticket to fight this Lok Sabha election could lie in his rejoinder to Kangana when he said, “Sometimes an insult to Mahatma Gandhi’s sacrifice and penance, sometimes respect to his killers and now an insult to the sacrifices of lakhs of freedom fighters… Should I call this madness or treason?”

Mandi goes to the polls on June 1.

Rashme Sehgal is an author and an independent journalist

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