Kullu (HP): Away from the frenzy of electioneering by parties' star campaigners in the rest of poll-bound Himachal Pradesh, for some candidates in the state's spiritual capital, Kullu, wooing local deities take precedence over Election Commission's model code of conduct.

Nothing in this picturesque assembly segment, dotted by temples and home to over 350 deities, happens without the wishes of Gods.

The EC rules bar contestants from political activity during any religious function. In Kullu, the EC directive has been put to acid test, thanks to the age-old custom which requires the erstwhile local ruler to be part of the fortnight-long Dussehra revelry marked by a grand procession of the deities.

By tradition, the 'Raja' hosts the region’s presiding deity Lord Raghunath, who leads the Dussehra procession. And the 'Raja' in Kullu happens to be Maheshwar Singh, a former state BJP chief who is contesting from Kullu assembly segment on the ticket of the newly formed Himachal Lokhit Party, an outfit of BJP rebels founded by him.

Being the custodian of the presiding deity, Singh has been busy with the Dussehra celebrations which began from October 24 soon after the announcement of election schedule in Himachal and ended on Tuesday.

"Being the inheritor of the royal tradition and custodian of Lord Raghunath, I am required to participate in the entire event which is a long, traditional celebration of seven days.

I know the Election Commission rule but in my case, I can’t do anything about it. "Tradition is tradition. The traditional Kullu Dussehra cannot take place without the King, who happens to be me. I have to oblige the people who look up to me for upholding of the customs," Singh told on Tuesday.

Although he has not campaigned in the technical sense of the word, his mere presence in Dussehra celebrations has served as a canvassing point. When asked, EC officials said, the Commission "has not interfered" with the tradition".

Himachal's Chief Election Officer Narinder Chauhan said, "Keeping in view the tradition, the Commission has not interfered with it. However, EC is keeping a vigil and videographing all the activities of the erstwhile ruler Singh.     "We will also ensure that culture, religion and politics is not mixed and no one will be allowed to use any posters or flags and will not campaign any way," he added.

Asked about Singh getting any benefit out of this tradition as he is the only one participating in the Dussehra celebrations, the CEO said, "technically he is not the chief guest. He is only a custodian of Lord Raghunath and participating in the tradition."

That apart, the Gods in Kullu even determine the local voting behaviour. Ask the locals and they say, "We seek the blessings of deities before we go to vote." Dule Ram said, "We pray so that the Gods make us vote for the best candidate."

Vying for voters' attention

Vying for voters' attention is also Ram Singh of BJP against the royal duo from Kullu segment and Sunder Singh Thakur of Congress. Besides, Prem Lata Thakur, wife of former Minister Satya Prakash Thakur, is also in the fray.

While BJP candidate Ram Singh is banking on his SC caste factor as well as the development agenda of BJP, Congress nominee Sunder Singh is banking on anti-incumbency.

Kullu seat has 72,000 voters, 25 per cent of which comprise of Scheduled Caste voters. Traditionally, Kullu district has remained a traditional Congress stronghold but BJP had wrested all the seats in the last assembly polls. "If one looks at the history of voting patterns in the area, Maheshwar Singh has won from this district twice and has been a Lok Sabha member thrice from Mandi Parliamentary seat.

The district as a whole comprises Manali, Banjar, Anni assembly segments, spread across vast and remote areas. Put together, Kullu's four segments have about 2.5 lakh voters.

Interestingly, this assembly segment on the banks of River Beas is also home to Malana, a village panchayat, which has the credit of being the oldest republic in India with a well organized parliamentary system. As per tradition, the people of the village consider themselves to be descendants of Aryans.

In Malana, the representative and democratic system was followed when such concepts were alien to the rest of India. Unaffected by modern civilisation, Malana has its own lifestyle and social structure. People are strict in following their customs and are guided by their deity (devta) Jamlu Rishi and follow their deity in doing everything, including casting votes.


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