Mandi constituency is the largest and the most diverse constituency out of the four constituencies in Himachal Pradesh. To understand the extent of the constituency, this parliamentary constituency can be broken down to the areas of five major districts of the state- Mandi, Kinnaur, Lahaul Spiti, Kullu and Manali.
Mandi constituency has always been a hotbed of politics. The constituency, earlier named as Mandi-Mahasu, was represented by Rani Amrit Kaur and Gopi Ram of the erstwhile Patiala state during 1952-57. In the Lok Sabha elections that followed in 1957, the seat was represented by Raja Joginder Sen of the erstwhile Mandi state, who represented the seat till 1962. In the following elections that year Raja Lalit Sen of Sundarnagar or the erstwhile Suket State was elected. He repeated his victory in the 1967 elections.
From 1977 to 1979, the constituency was represented by Ganga Singh who represented the Janata Party, which came to power at the Centre immediately after the elections that followed the imposition of Emergency in the country. He defeated Congress candidate Virbhadra Singh. Sukh Ram, who dubbed himself as ‘the son of the soil’, then switched from state politics to parliamentary polls, winning comfortably in 1985. He was defeated the following elections by another blue-blooded royal -- Maheshwar Singh, scion of the erstwhile Kullu state.
Although Sukh Ram won again in 1994, he was expelled from the Congress a couple of years later, following the reported recovery of large amounts of cash from his residence. He then formed Himachal Vikas Congress and came back into politics – winning five Assembly seats in 1998 along with the Shimla (reserved) parliamentary seat from the Congress in 1999. In 1998, Sukh Ram’s HVC, under an alliance with the BJP, supported the candidature of Maheshwar Singh, who won easily. In 2004, Congress candidate Pratibha Singh, wife of Virbhadra Singh, defeated Maheshwar Singh. In 2009, Congress candidate Virbhadra Singh defeated Maheshwar Singh by a very small margin. Then in 2014, BJP candidate Ram Swaroop Sharma defeated Pratibha Singh.
In 2019, BJP’s sitting MP is up against Congress’s Aashray Sharma. What makes this constituency interesting this time is that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has also fielded a candidate, Daleep Singh Kayath, this time round.
Left Front’s Alternative
Kayath, born in1970, belongs to a middle class family in Rampur in Kinnaur district. His ancestors hailed from Sangla village. An advocate by profession, Kayath was also involved in social work while he was pursuing his L.L.B from Himachal Pradesh University and graduated from Rampur Government College.
Newsclick travelled to Nankhari, a block in Rampur in district Kinnaur, where Kayath held a rally. To campaign for him, former CPI(M) MP Subhashini Ali and CPI(M) MLA from Theog, Rakesh Singha, Joined in Nankhari.
Unpredictable weather, with rains gracing rather generously, dipped the temperature a few degrees. With people showing growing worry for their apple crop, they also said that the area would receive snowfall if the rain continued for another two hours.
The biggest issue the entire northern region of the Mandi constituency faces is the lack of proper roads. During the rally, a local person told Newsclick, “this road is so bad you can look for yourself. Can you believe that approximately 14 crore worth of apples are transported through this road every year? This is the main problem. The other thing is that we are so fed up with the BJP and the Congress. They are both the same.”
When asked if he would consider voting for the Left, he replied in the affirmative and said pointing to a road, “You see that road? No government bus driver would take us through that road. There are a couple of villages that depend on that road but its condition is very bad. The conductors and drivers often refuse to go further. One day they got into an argument with me when I asked them to go further. They said they won’t and asked all the passengers to get down here. Then I called Mr. Singha and narrated the entire incident. He made sure that all the buses went through that road. Since then no bus driver has ever refused to go any further.”
For him it was mere access to the legislator that swayed him towards the left party. “Nobody listens to us. Ram Swaroop Sharma had come here just two days ago with chief minister Jai Ram Thakur to seek votes. We have never seen him here ever in the past five years. They only come here during elections. We are tired of these people. If we are getting an alternative, we would like to consider it.”
Another issue in the area is that posts of primary teachers in the villages are lying vacant as no teacher wants to come and stay in these villages. “They take salaries from this block but sit in Rampur. The money allotted for this region goes waste. Our children don't have schools to go to here,” said another person.
Kayath told Newsclick: “Leaders from BJP and Congress only want to campaign and hold rallies in bigger towns like Mandi (city) or Rampur but the condition of the villages, especially the tribal regions, are very critical. No leader ventures into these areas because the roads are in a pathetic condition. Basic necessities like clean water, electricity, sanitation and sewer lines also don’t reach many areas. Our endeavour is to provide an alternative to the people of this region.”
CM Thakur has also extensively campaigned in Mandi since he hails from here and it would send a wrong message if he fails to seal this constituency.
Speaking to Newsclick, Singha said: “The BJP in the state and at the Centre have failed the people miserably. They have cheated and lied to the people of this nation. People are angry. Their anger is culminating in votes and we will help them to out the BJP, and not only the BJP, but any party that fails the people of this country. As far as Mandi is concerned, we are hoping to provide the people of this region with an alternative to the policies of the BJP and the Congress, with whom the voters are utterly disappointed. Whatever be the outcome. We are determined to fight for the issues of the people.”
A bystander, Khekhu Ram, holding a red flag said, “I’m attending a rally for the first time. Actually, the voters of these villages have become so used to government apathy that they have lost all hope from leaders and political parties. After Singhaji took up our issues a few times, we feel something could change, so we have come to attend this rally despite heavy rain.”
The condition of the roads, connectivity to remote areas, medical facilities, filling of vacancies in schools are just a few among the various issues in this geographically vast and diverse constituency. Much like the way the language changes every 100 km, the issues also vary, but the poor condition of roads seem central to the entire constituency.
Kayath says he is confident of addressing and raising all the issues. “We are determined to raise all these issues which have remained sidelined through rule of BJP and Congress. People want an alternative that we are aiming to provide. That is why we started our campaign when both BJP and Congress had not even decided their candidates. We have been carrying out a door-to- door campaign to reach out to as many villages in all these districts.”