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Will Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh Lose From His Constituency?

Vo kehte hain na dada-dadi, “ek tha Raja, ek thi Rani...” Rani ko toh humnein hara hi diya 2014 ke Lok Sabha chunav mein. Aagey aap dekh lijiyega. (Grandparents used to use this phrase, “there was once a king and a queen...” We defeated the Queen in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The rest you wait and watch.)

Sitting in the BJP office, Devender Kumar Sharma, General Secretary of the party from Arki constituency, talks to The Quint with a confident smile. He is busy with party workers as they strategise their candidate Rattan Singh Pal’s win over the sitting Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.

CM Virbhadra Singh, popularly known as ‘Raja’ since he comes from royalty, chose to contest from Arki after he gave way to his son Vikramaditya Singh, to contest from his current constituency of Rural Shimla.

When Devender says “Rani ko hara diya”, he is referring to Raja saab’s wife, Pratibha Singh’s loss in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Mandi constituency. Rani, as she is popularly known, lost by a margin of 39,796 votes to first time BJP candidate Ramswaroop Sharma.

File photo of Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh and his wife Pratibha Singh at a rally in Mandi.

Also Read: Isolated, Invisible, Shunned: Who Will Himachal’s Dalits Vote For?

The Quint met with some people to sense the political leanings, and investigate if Raja saab could actually lose from his constituency.

Don’t Trust BJP, Trust Congress

Only a few minutes of walking on one of Arki’s main roads, the sound of a bubbling hukka grabs my attention. As I enter the quaint home of 52-year-old Gyan Pratap Singh, he sits with his pipe in a room that smells of burnt charcoal.

Gyan Pratap Singh has seven kids and is certain of where his vote will go this year.

Raja saab has done a lot here, his legacy is strong. On the other hand, I feel BJP leaders can’t be trusted.

While Gyan knows his vote will be for the Congress, there are others who are particularly disenchanted with the party.

'BJP's Campaigning Makes Us Uncomfortable'

After stepping out of Gyan’s room, I’m greeted again by the chill and clean air of the town. From the corner of my eye, Muhammad Gulzar and his wife Sahiba, who own a vegetable shop, grab my attention.

As we sit to speak, Sahiba says Gulzar used to be a driver, and she stayed home. But things have not been the same since Gulzar hurt his left leg and needed surgery. He was told he could never drive long distances again. Since then, both Gulzar and Sahiba own this vegetable shop and make about Rs 10,000 a month.

The BJP campaigns have made both of them, Gulzar and Sahiba, very uncomfortable over the last few days. 

She anticipates the question even before anything is asked, and pat comes the reply.

I’ll only vote for the congress. Why? Because every time the BJP has crossed my shop during their campaign, they keep saying ‘Jay Shri Ram’ again and again. It makes me very uncomfortable. What’s the need for that?

Also Read: Degree but No Job? Welcome to Solan, Himachal’s Education Hub

They both feel the Congress is secular and a better fit for them. “They gave us land where we could build ourselves a home. They’re looking out for us,” Gulzar says.

Both Gulzar and Sahiba were no fans of demonetisation either. Sahiba says her family lost Rs 15,000 as they needed money urgently and couldn’t wait in long queues.

People cut their commissions from my money. Yes my money. And I couldn’t do anything.“I'm Disabled, Begged for a Job for Years”

Sree Sram has waited a long time for a government job. He has tried at least 10 times. 

I’ve tried to meet Virbhadra myself at least ten times to ask for a job. They’re not willing to let a disabled person work. They ask me to tell them when a vacancy arises, is it my job to do that?

Sree has two kids, a girl and a boy, who are both currently studying in middle school. His wife does not work.

Also Read: BJP Will Win Majority in Himachal Elections: India Today-Axis Poll

A year ago, he stopped going to the secretariat in Shimla to ask for a job. In other words, he gave up. However, whenever he mustered the courage to go from Arki to Shimla, 60 kilometers away, it wasn’t an easy choice. 

Sree Sram can do almost everything with his arms, using his strengths in spite of his disability, to earn a living for himself and his family.

I had to let go of my daily wage (dihadi), spend money for the bus, eat there and get my photocopies done. Do you think this is easy for a man like me?

Also Read: Himachal Polls: More Women Cast Vote, But Few Get Party Tickets

Don't Want Any Raja, Wazir or Mantri

A few minutes after meeting Sree, I met 43-year-old Bhoop Ram. Unlike what his name might suggest, he had no political inclinations whatsoever, fed up with parties and politics.

Bhoop Ram makes tea for himself as he says he would like to hit politicians with his shoes.

Don’t want any of them. Joote maarne ka mann karta hain sabko. (I feel like hitting them all with a shoe.)

He still wants to vote though, but he is going to do it without any thought. “I’ll give my vote to whoever I want to at that moment. No thought whatsoever,” Ram says.

'Raja Will Win From Here, I'm Sure'

As the sun is about to set, the roads are emptier now. However, in a brightly lit room with green walls, Subhash is giving haircuts to teenagers.

He talks to The Quint as he continues to cut hair, making the young lad on the seat slightly nervous.

Subhash is certain the congress will win in the upcoming Himachal Pradesh assembly elections.

Virbhadra has a much stronger hold in comparison. I’m excited that the CM is standing from here. Hoping he will work for the people and pay more attention to his constituency. 

If Virbhadra was to lose, this wouldn’t be the first time he would lose from a seat as a contesting Chief Minister.

As I leave Subhash’s shop, it’s dark outside – not a soul on the road, but thousands of bright stars in the sky. In the coming days, Arki is going to have many road shows with prominent BJP and Congress leaders. It will be buzzing with activity. But tonight, the people go to sleep, some sure and some unsure of their vote, but all contemplating the assembly elections of 9 November.

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. Read more on Politics by BloombergQuint.