Kangana Ranaut in Mandi: BJP dissidents, erstwhile royals pose tough challenges

Maheshwar Singh, a former BJP state president and three-time MP, has asked the party high command to review its decision to field Ranaut

Kangana Ranaut at her roadshow (photo: PTI)
Kangana Ranaut at her roadshow (photo: PTI)


The influence of BJP dissidents and the erstwhile royal families in the Mandi Lok Sabha constituency could make the road tough for Bollywood actor turned-politician Kangana Ranaut, who is making her electoral debut as the BJP candidate from the high-profile seat.

Maheshwar Singh, a former BJP state president, three-time MP and scion of the erstwhile royal family of Kullu, has asked the party high command to review its decision to field Ranaut, while BJP dissidents who were denied a ticket in the 2022 Assembly polls and fought as independents held a meeting to chalk out future strategy.

BJP leader and former minister Ram Lal Markanda has resigned from the party along with his supporters after Congress rebel Ravi Thakur, who voted in favour of the BJP in last month's Rajya Sabha elections, was given a ticket for the Assembly by-polls from Lahaul and Spiti.

"I have left the BJP along with my supporters and would definitely contest the Assembly polls," Markanda had told PTI, adding that there is a even possibility of him contesting from the Congress party.

Mandi comprises 17 assembly segments — three tribal segments of Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti and Bharmour in Chamba district, all four segments of Kullu district (Kullu, Manali, Banjar and Anni), and nine segments of Sundernagar, Balh, Mandi, Darang, Jogindernagar, Nachan, Seraj, Karsog and Sarkaghat in Mandi district and Rampur in Shimla district. Of the 17, eight are reserved for Schedule Castes and Tribes.

As a Lok Sabha constituency, Mandi has mostly remained the battlefield of erstwhile royal families, and their scions have won 13 of the 19 elections, — including two by-elections — held for the seat.

As Ranaut launched her election campaign with a roadshow and rally on Friday, senior BJP leader Maheshwar Singh urged the BJP high command to review its decision to field the actor "who has made no contribution", and claimed that he had been promised the ticket.

"Kangana has made no contribution to the party, and the people of Mandi have become vocal and are asking for a review of the decision on social media," Singh told PTI on Saturday. "Talks are on with the BJP high command on reviewing their decision. I was earlier promised the ticket."

Singh's son Hiteshwar Singh, former BJP general-secretary Ram Singh and former Anni MLA Kishori Lal — all three who contested the 2022 Assembly polls as independents after being denied a ticket by the BJP — held a meeting with other disgruntled BJP leaders in the Parliamentary constituency after Ranaut's candidature was announced.

Congress state chief and sitting Mandi MP Pratibha Singh had initially pulled out of the race for the party ticket, claiming the "ground reality was not favourable and workers were disheartened". However, the wife of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh and mother of Himachal Pradesh PWD minister Vikramaditya Singh from the erstwhile Bushar royal family changed her stance since Ranaut's nomination and said she "will follow the directions of the Congress high command".

"People have a sentimental attachment with former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, and that is the reason why people always support our family and want somebody from this family to contest this election," she told PTI on Friday.

The silver lining for Ranaut is that BJP leader Khushal Thakur, a Kargil war hero who lost to Pratibha Singh by a margin of 7,490 votes in the by-elections held in November 2021, has backed her candidature. "I am supporting Kangana. There are over one lakh ex-servicemen in this constituency," he told PTI on Saturday.

Ranaut, who addressed her first election meeting on Friday, called herself a "daughter and sister" of the people of Mandi and claimed she was constantly “bullied” for hailing from Himachal Pradesh. "I have constructed a small devi temple in my village and have built a house in Manali. I had struggled and worked hard to carve a niche for myself,” Ranaut said.

"It is not that my father or husband is chief minister and I have joined politics,” she said, in an obvious reference to Pratibha and Vikramaditya Singh, who had earlier compared her to Sunny Deol, another actor-politician in the BJP camp who has been criticised for his alleged absence from his Lok Sabha constituency.

Those elected in the past from the seat are Rajkumari Amrit Kaur of the Kapurthala dynasty and Raja Joginder Sen Bahadur of the erstwhile princely state of Mandi (both elected once); Raja Lalit Sen of Suket represented Mandi twice, Virbhadra Singh and Pratibha Singh (three times each) and Raja Maheshwar Singh (thrice).

Former Union minister Sukh Ram (who won thrice), Ram Swaroop (twice) and Ganga Singh were the only Mandi MPs not from erstwhile royalty.

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