Royal Legacy Meets Stardom: The Mandi Lok Sabha Seat Showdown in Himachal Pradesh

Royal Legacy Meets Stardom: The Mandi Lok Sabha Seat Showdown in Himachal Pradesh

Political observers note a striking contrast between the former Royal and the Bollywood star, which will be scrutinized at all levels.

KS TomarUpdated: Wednesday, April 17, 2024, 02:12 PM IST

Battle lines have now been drawn in the Mandi Lok Sabha seat in Himachal Pradesh, as the Congress has leaned on the legacy of the six-time former Chief Minister, the late Virbhadra Singh hence consequently, it has allotted the ticket to his son and the PWD minister, Vikramaditya Singh, who will face off against the BJP nominee and film star, Kangana Ranaut.

Contrary to expectations, this won't be a clash between Pratibha Singh, the incumbent Congress MP, and Kangana. Instead, the young former Royal of Rampur Bushahr in Shimla district, Vikramaditya, is poised to challenge the Bollywood actor. This encounter promises to be interesting and impactful, given Kangana's special favour with the BJP's central leadership, who are keen on ensuring her success in her maiden foray into the political arena from the hilly state.

By all yardsticks, it will be a high-voltage encounter, thereby putting the prestige of state leaders like former Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, who hails from Mandi district, and state unit chief Dr. Rajiv Bindal at stake, besides national leaders who ignored the claims of senior leaders and awarded the ticket to an film personality unfamiliar with the topography of the 17 assembly segments that constitute the Mandi Lok Sabha seat. Apart from top leaders, the RSS also supported her candidature due to her staunch support of Hindutva and her frequent confrontation with Congress leaders and the Shiv Sena government in Mumbai. Kangana has often embarrassed the BJP, for instance, by claiming India gained independence in 2014 or by stating that Subhash Chandra Bose was India's first Prime Minister.

The stage is now set for a political clash between the heroine of the 2013 film "Queen," in which Kangana played the role of Rani, a Delhi girl from a conservative family. However, she will be pitted against the actual former Royal, who possesses several advantages owing to his background and experience in politics as a minister and currently third-time MLA from the Shimla rural constituency.

Political observers note a striking contrast between the former Royal and the Bollywood star, which will be scrutinized at all levels. The encounter promises to be lively and colourful, laden with several uncertainties. A cursory analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates from the perspective of critics and voters may provide a vague idea of their respective positioning and chances of victory or defeat. It's too early to predict, especially with polling for the four Himachal Lok Sabha seats scheduled for June 1st.

Kangana, hailing from the nondescript village of Bhambala in Mandi district, Himachal Pradesh, had embarked on a remarkable journey to achieve success in the film industry. In sync with the philosophy of chance and destiny, as espoused by the 19th-century Victorian realist Thomas Hardy, she rebelled against her family and had no mentors amidst the ocean of uncertainties of Mumbai. She aligns herself with right-wing ideology, being a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and maintains close ties with the RSS. This support, especially, given her novice status in politics, tilted the scales in her favour. However, Mandi is not an easy constituency to conquer. Represented by Pratibha Singh, the state congress president and widow of Ex CM, Virbhadra , who declined to contest from this seat, Kangana's nomination reportedly owes much to party president J.P. Nadda, who hails from Himachal, and Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Anurag Thakur, who belongs to Hamirpur district.

Contrary to popular belief about commonality of birth in the society, Vikramadiya Singh was blessed with a golden spoon and his late father, Virbhadra Singh, ascended to the throne of Busher at the tender age of 14. However, Virbhadra later delved into politics in the early sixties, eventually serving as Chief Minister six times as well as union minister. This provided a valuable platform for Vikramadiya to immerse himself in the intricacies of politics. Virbhadra's legacy was one of kindness and advocacy for the underprivileged and Have nots’, a reputation that has become an invaluable asset to the Singh family.

Amidst the decline of the Congress party, Vikramadiya faced little opposition in securing a ticket after his mother, Pratibha, declined to contest. He chose to permanently align himself with the congress party that his father had served devotedly throughout his life which helped him in desisting from any temptation from BJP.

Advantages of Being a Scion; Wide Recognition across 17 Segments: Vikramadiya's deep-rooted familial connections have cultivated a strong presence across all seventeen assembly segments within the Mandi Lok Sabha constituency. Both his father and mother have tirelessly nurtured these connections over three decades as an MP. Virbhadra represented Mandi in in 1962, 1971, 1980 and 2009 whereas Pratibha Singh got elected in 2004, 2103 and 2021(won by poll hence still sitting MP).

First, Youthful Energy and Appeal: As a young and energetic ex-royal, Vikramadiya is well-positioned to resonate with the younger demographic, fostering a connection crucial for electoral success.

Second, Ancestral Links: With ancestral ties the people of Kinnaur, Rampur and Rohru, Vikramadiya enjoys substantial support in these regions, potentially translating into an unassailable lead and influencing the final outcome.

Third, Inherited Political Fortunes: In the 2021 by polls, Pratibha Singh secured a lead in 14 out of the 17 segments, providing a psychological advantage to the party and its nominee.

Fourth, Oratory Skills and Social Media Savvy: Vikramadiya's prowess as a skilled orator and his active presence on social media, where he addresses issues concerning the common populace, may contribute significantly to his electoral appeal.

Fifth, Re-energizing Virbhadra Singh's Support Base: The endorsement of the Congress high command rejuvenates the loyal supporters of Virbhadra Singh, bolstering Vikramadiya's campaign with the legacy of his father's six-term chief ministership.

Sixth, Employees Support: The workforce, instrumental in toppling the BJP regime in demand of restoring the Old Pension Scheme, remains supportive of the Congress, thanks to the practical measures initiated by the Sukhu government.

Seventh, Crisis Management and Relief Operations: Vikramadiya's active involvement in overseeing relief operations alongside his mother during the July/August catastrophe had earned commendation, enhancing his credibility among affected communities.

Eighth, Exploiting Hindutva Card: In pursuance of his religious faith and devotion, Vikramadiya's attendance at the ‘Ram Mandir Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony in Ayodhya demonstrated a strategic move to leverage the Hindutva sentiment, neutralizing BJP's stronghold on religious narratives. Late Virbhadra is also credited with the enactment of Anti Conversion Law, way back in 2006, which exhibits the Hindu lineage of the family.

Disadvantages; Unfulfilled Election Promises: The Congress party faces criticism for its failure to fulfil ten election promises made during the 2022 assembly elections, undermining confidence in its candidates including Vikramaditya.

1st, Anti-Incumbency Sentiment: Vikramadiya will have to address concerns regarding the Sukhu government's performance over the past year, particularly regarding employment generation, to counter the prevailing anti-incumbency sentiment.

2nd, Financial Constraints: Limited financial resources pose a serious challenge to Vikramadiya's campaign efforts, hindering the party's ability to compete effectively with BJP candidate.3rd. Social Media and Advertising Deficit: The Congress lags behind the BJP in terms of social media presence and vast newspaper advertisements, potentially diminishing its visibility and impact in contemporary politics.

4th, amidst the tumult of congressional infighting, Vikaramadiya finds himself confronted with a dual challenge: the apathy of the late Sukh Ram’s family, former union minister, and the persistent spectre of factionalism within the organization. Sukh Ram’s family holds considerable sway in Mandi district and beyond, casting a shadow over the parliamentary seat. Complicating matters further, Anil Sharma, a BJP MLA from the Sadar segment, may add to the woes of Congress nominee though he did not get respect in BJP as per his status and seniority.

But BJP knows how to change the track especially when situation warrants so. Against this backdrop, the potential discord between Virbhadra and Sukhu supporters may remain subdued, as the Chief Minister will have to rally his loyalists behind Vikramaditya and instil a transformative mind-set to ensure victory for the party's candidate as his takes are also involved in this contest.


First, MODI’S ‘CHARISMA’ AND HIGH POPULARITY: BJP nominee Kangana and the party will bank on the sole factor which pertains to the ‘charisma’ and high popularity of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, which is beyond the reach of Congress central or state leaders. Modi has an old association dating back a decade from 1991 to 2000 with Himachal when he was the state party affairs in charge, hence well-acquainted with every nook and corner of the hilly state. Unlike assembly polls when the Modi factor did not yield desired results, this time it will be a vote for the PM himself, and candidates including Kangana may not matter, which holds true for other states as well. Experts feel that Mandi will be different from other seats in Himachal as Kangana got a ticket directly from the top, hence a prestige issue.

Second, CENTRAL GOVERNMENT'S TEN YEAR ACHIEVEMENTS: There are several pro-women and pro-people central welfare schemes which will be capitalized upon during the current polls. BJP’s slogan of “Charso Ke Paar'' is primarily aimed at psychologically convincing the voters about the proper exercise of their franchise, thereby refraining from wasting their right.

Third, HINDUTVA AND OTHER ISSUES: Hindutva, the abrogation of Article 370, and corruption issues of Congress, among others, will be exploited to the hilt by BJP, which goes to the credit of Modi.

Fourth, KANGANA’S BACKGROUND: Kangana’s journey from her humble village background to becoming a highly successful film actor may prove handy in connecting with the common people, as she did not have the luxury of being an ex-royal like her rival.

Fifth, APPEAL TO WOMEN VOTERS: Being a high-profile star, she may easily connect with women, who may have some sympathy, as witnessed in every election in the country.

Sixth, RSS AND DEDICATED CADRES: The well-oiled machinery of RSS and dedicated party cadres will work to the advantage of Kangana. This is lacking in the Congress organization, which is struggling to have better rapport with its own government.

Seventh, JAI RAM THAKUR’S INFLUENCE: The opposition leader, Jai Ram Thakur, belongs to Mandi district like BJP nominee Kangana and the party had won nine out of 10 assembly seats in the 2022 polls. Hence, the party is expecting an identical response for the party nominee. However, the onus will be on Jai Ram to ensure an identical performance, though it will be an uphill task as he was CM during the previous assembly polls, which had tilted the pendulum in his favour as voters wanted to see him victorious again. Now, the situation has undergone a sea-change, and he will have to work hard as he will have to mobilize voters for the party nominee, not for himself. Eighth.

MODI WAVE: The Modi wave had ensured the lead in all 68 assembly segments in 2019 and BJP polled 69% votes compared to 13% of Congress in the state. If voters behave in a similar manner, then it will prove advantageous in the Mandi seat as well to help Kangana.

NEGATIVES.ABSENCE DURING NATURAL DISASTER: BJP may face a huge challenge in defending Kangana's absence during the recent natural disaster in Himachal Pradesh, particularly in the Mandi Lok Sabha seat. Experts argue that her failure to visit affected families, especially considering her well planned entry into politics from Himachal, may raise questions about her commitment to the welfare of constituents?

1. TEMPERAMENT AND CONTROVERSIES: Kangana's penchant for stirring controversies poses a significant risk to her campaign. While she has previously weathered such storms, any misstep or even unintentional outburst could irreparably damage her credibility. Voters scrutinize such behaviour at micro level and congress is poised to exploit this controversy for political gain in the election.

2. CROWD APPEAL VERSUS SUPPORT: Despite her immense popularity as a successful actress, Kangana's ability to attract large crowds at rallies may not necessarily translate into votes. Over enthusiastic attendees may simply be curious to have her glimpse rather than committed supporters. Kangana must be cautious not to mistake crowd size for genuine backing.

3.POLITICAL INEXPERIENCE: Kangana's status as a political novice is a significant disadvantage. Her lack of familiarity with the topography of the 17 segments, including tribal constituencies like Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur, and Bharmour, presents a formidable challenge. Navigating the hilly terrain and reaching every village will prove arduous, further compounded by her limited political experience.

In conclusion, the efficacy of Hindutva as a strategy for the BJP nominee in the Mandi Lok Sabha seat may be limited, given the strong Hindu credentials of the rival candidate. However, Modi's tireless campaigning and his ability to connect with people could disrupt conventional political calculations. Additionally, a communal tone to electioneering may not yield desired results due to the small Muslim population, not exceeding 2.18%, setting this contest apart from others.

(Writer is a political analyst and senior journalist based in Shimla)


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