The former royals of Himachal Pradesh, who ruled their principalities long after democracy was established in India, are again trying to maintain their influence in the upcoming election polls in the hill state. The royals have become a center of debate between Congress and the ruling BJP.
While the Congress, which wants to return to power in Himachal Pradesh, has put its money on several scions in the coming Assembly polls, the ruling BJP has centered its campaign to remind voters that there is no place for ” rajas and ranis” in a democracy.
The Himachal Pradesh polls will be held on November 12 and the vote counting will take place on December 8.
Congress ‘royal’ bet
While it is true that the influence of the ‘royals’ has declined over the years, only a handful of them have contested the elections for the November 12 meeting. However, despite dwindling numbers in the poll battle, the scions still have influence over their former princely states.
India’s great old party Congress, which over the years has relied on the influence of these ‘royals’ to stay in power, has again placed a bet on several scions in upcoming polls.
Former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, from the former Rampur Bushahr royal family, dominated the politics of the hill state for nearly five decades. His son Vikramaditya is now fighting for the Shimla Rural seat for the congress ticket.
Vikramaditya Singh’s mother Pratibha Singh, who hails from the former Keonthal royal family, is the chairman of the Himachal Pradesh Congress. She is not participating in the elections, as she is Mandi’s MP.
Dalhousie’s five-time MLA, Asha Kumari, is married into the former Chamba royal family. She has also been nominated by Congress this time.
Incumbent MLA Anirudh Singh of the former royal family Koti is fighting again from Kasumpti. He is also a former chairman of the Shimla Zila Parishad.
Another ‘royal’ scion in the fray is Hiteshwar Singh as an independent member of the Banjar constituency in Kullu. His father Maheshwar Singh, the ‘king’ of the former Kullu kingdom, lost his ticket when his son threw his hat into the ring.
BJP distances itself from ‘royal’ legacy
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has set the tone against the congress, accusing it of being a party of “rajas and ranis”. The reference is to former Prime Minister Virbhadra Singh, who ruled the state for decades and whose wife and son still run the show for the big old party.
This time, however, Vijay Jyoti Sen of the former royal family Keonthal is missing, who is also Pratibha Singh’s sister-in-law. Sen had contested the latest Kasumpti Assembly polls. She supports the BJP this time.
Chandresh Kumari of the former royal family Kangra is also not in this election. She once held power in both Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan as she hails from the former royal family of Jodhpur. She was a former minister in Himachal Pradesh and also a former Member of Parliament.
“Gone are the days of raja-rani, now is the time of the common people,” Interior Minister and senior BJP leader Amit Shah had said as he launched a diatribe against royalty and Congress during his polls. Shah had also accused Congress of being a “raja-rani” party, saying there is no longer any place for “royals” in a democracy.
‘Royals’ shed their legacy
Anirudh Singh, the scion of the former Koti royal family, believes that for the current generation of voters it doesn’t matter whether one belongs to a ‘royal’ family or not, it is one’s behavior that matters. “If you work for people, people will develop a liking for you. If you stay as a commoner despite coming from a royal family, people will prefer you and sympathy will increase,” he told the news. desk PTIA.
Maheshwar Singh, 73, a scion of the former Kullu royal family who has been in politics for more than four decades, said royalties are long gone after Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time and have no place in a democracy.
Maheshwar Singh, who was replaced as Kullu’s BJP candidate after his son submitted his nomination as an independent from the nearby Banjar seat, withdrew his nomination as an independent candidate in favor of the ruling party’s candidate.
He said that the days of rajas and maharajas are over and that in a democracy only those who serve the electorate well command respect from the people.
“Nowadays no one votes for you because you are a raja. They will only respect you according to your behavior. In a democracy it is a disadvantage to be royal. People will only vote for you if you do their job and serve them well,” Singh said.
“I am simply a ‘ghulam’ of Raghunathji and hold the holy ‘chhadi’ of the Lord as his ‘chowkidar’ during Dussehra in accordance with tradition. I also prevent people from addressing me as a raja,” he added.
According to tradition, the scion of the former royal family Kullu holds the sacred “chhadi” of Lord Raghunath during the annual 10-day Dussehra festival.
Ramesh, a small shopkeeper in Una’s Talliwal, says the ‘royals’ continue to hold sway over hill state voters as they are still revered by locals.
“How can one ignore the royals who have been the rulers in various kingdoms of Himachal Pradesh? They will continue to influence the common people,” he said.
However, Ashok Kumar from Solan believes that the ‘royals’ held sway in the past and that now is the time for the common people to rule on merit.
“No one can claim to be special these days because he was born into a royal family. It is merit that matters and anyone who serves people well is given preference,” he said.
Rahul from Nalagarh says royalties are now a thing of the past and claims that politics must be “clean” if the state and the country are to move forward.
Those with a clean record should come forward, and honesty should be rewarded by people, he says.
As the “royals” romp on the roads of Himachal, away from the comforts of their palaces, the BJP is warning voters against “feudal submission” to the congress’s “princely” candidates.
With political parties playing their own games in the run-up to the polls, voters are also admitting that royalty is deeply rooted in the rural hinterland of Himachal Pradesh.
Whether the royals continue to exert a powerful influence on voters’ hearts, time will tell.
(with PTI inputs)
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