BJP moves mountains to win Mandi seat

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BJP moves mountains to win Mandi seat

Wednesday, 05 June 2024 | K S Tomar

BJP moves mountains to win Mandi seat

The BJP is determined to regain the prestigious Mandi seat in Himachal Pradesh. The contest has become a battle royal between former royalty and a film star

Sunny Deol could not uproot any ‘hand-pumps’ in the domain of politics but it could not desist the ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ Kangana Ranaut to jump into the electoral fray from her hometown Mandi, in Himachal Pradesh. It is a prestigious seat for the BJP high command which gave a ticket to a ‘parachute’ by ignoring the genuine claim of the senior leaders hence Prime Minister, Narender Modi addressed a huge rally at Mandi town on May 24.PM established a new relationship with being elder brother of Kangna which may benefit her as it sends a signal of her closeness to Modi. She is a die-hard devotee (Bhakt) of Modi and felt extremely elevated when the PM described her as Behan(sister) which may send a clear signal of her closeness and create positive vibes amongst the electorate.

Many of the box-office hits have bombed in the political arena of north India except the ‘dream girl’ Hema Malini, who is still going strong as a ‘Jat bahu’ from Mathura in western Uttar Pradesh and late Vinod Khanna, who seamlessly turned into astute politicians after being a ‘heartthrob’ in the 1980s. Northern political winds in India blow in different patterns and that is why superstars like Amitabh Bachchan could not handle the gruel of politics while his ‘sharabi’ heroine Jaya Prada needed the umbrella of a mentor like Amar Singh always by her side, till he breathed last.

Back to a ‘novice politician’ Kangana. She is being haunted during the election campaign owing to two pejorative issues. First, Kangana’s absence during the catastrophe in July/August last year has become handy for Congress which is exploiting it to the hilt. All 17 assembly segments of the Mandi Lok Sabha seat were hit due to natural disaster but she remained confined to her abode in Mumbai. The political opponents are accusing her of being an absentee resident of Mandi and affected people will have to hanker in the business capital, Mumbai for the redressal of grievances if she wins.

The second,  the Bollywood actress took to Twitter and shared a video of the Dalai Lama with his tongue out, standing next to US President, Joe Biden and the caption read “The Dalai Lama receives a warm welcome at White House” She had to apologise later and clarified that she did not mean to hurt feelings of anyone. But followers of the spiritual leader have not pardoned her hence Buddhists recently organised a demonstration at Kaza, a part of Lahaul Spiti which falls in the Mandi constituency and showed black flags and placards “Go Back” which was condemned by BJP state leaders.

The parliamentary election of the Mandi constituency has become a lively affair this time as film star Kangana is pitted against Public Works Minister, Vikramaditya Singh, the son of six-time chief minister, late Virbhadra Singh. Kangana is a native of a small village in the Mandi district and her phenomenal rise as a little girl from the non-descriptive village of Bhambala in the Mandi district in Himachal Pradesh, can be attributed to her sheer determination, commitment and willpower. She is trying to create an emotional connection with voters thereby citing her struggle and subsequent achievements in the film world. The crowds are thronging to her rallies but it is extremely difficult to predict whether she will be benefited when they go to polling booths on June 1. 

Despite the odds, Kangana is fully pinning her hope on the high popularity and ‘charisma’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BJP had won all four Lok Sabha seats in Himachal in 2019 and polled over 69.11 per cent votes.BJP nominee established lead in all 17 segments of the Mandi constituency hence it is a big challenge to retain it, especially in the face of local issues of unemployment, price rise, state’s economic crisis etc.

BJP’s vote share had dwindled during state assembly elections in 2022 which came down to 43 per cent, a drop of 16.11% when compared with previous parliamentary polls. Touring all the seventeen assembly segments in the Mandi parliamentary constituency has posed a huge challenge for Kangana as she is unaware of the topography, especially the far-flung tribal areas of Bharmour, Lahaul & Spiti and Kinnaur.

Experts say that the film actor is facing a horde of challenges in her current role which cannot be synonymous with fairy tales or films. On a mandatory basis, the voters would expect her to be a full-time politician and make Mandi parliamentary constituency; she is promising to make Mandi her permanent abode for an easy approach to getting their work done.  Kangana also has the luxury of the support of disciplined BJP party cadres, vast resources and the well-oiled machinery of RSS in her groundwork.

Congress nominee, Vikramaditya enjoys the inherent advantages of having acquaintances with the voters which have become meaningful as his family has represented Mandi seat six times and his mother Pratibha Singh, the state party chief is sitting MP. Vikramaditya is focussing on local issues including the centre’s failure to announce a special package to help victims of last year’s catastrophe and the inaccessibility of Kangana.

In the final assessment, Hindutva rhetoric may have an impact though the rival candidate has strong Hindu credentials, He had attended the Ram Temple Pratishthan ceremony despite the Congress high command’s directive to keep away. Modi’s personal appeal and governance record could disrupt conventional political dynamics.

Ultimately, Kangana’s success hinges on her ability to navigate these challenges while leveraging BJP’s organizational strength and Modi’s popularity coupled with his ten-year association with Himachal as BJP in-charge from 1990 to 2001 may give a special twist to the political scenario in any seat in this hilly state.

(The writer is a political analyst and senior journalist based in Shimla, views are personal)

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