Kasumpti/Kullu: In the political landscape of Himachal Pradesh, royals still hold a mighty sway on the hearts of voters and trying to cash on it the Congress has fielded a fair share of royals in its list of contestants in the hope of wresting power from BJP.
The saffron brigade on its part is playing the "aam aadmi" plank against Congress` royal challenge considering five out of six scions of erstwhile princely estates in the race for November 4 elections hail from Congress.
Led by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his MP son Anurag Thakur, top BJP leaders have pitched the electoral battle in the state as one between "rajas" and "aam aadmi".
They are heard in rallies slamming the Congress for continued dependence on royals for victory.
"While Prem Kumar Dhumal is the son of a farmer, the Congress needs `rajas` like Virbhadra Singh to win elections? Anurag Thakur says, addressing people across Himachal and directly attacking State Congress Chief Virbhadra, former ruler of Rampur Bushahr family and ace royal in the fray from Shimla Rural constituency.
The BJP is represented in this newly carved segment by commoner Ishwar Singh Rohal, Chairman of the Shimla Block Development Committee.
While the royals are roughing it out on the roads of Himachal away from the comforts of their palaces ahead of the D-Day, the BJP is seen cautioning voters against "feudal submission" to Congress? "princely" candidates led by Virbhadra.
The latter is hoping to create history by beating YS Parmar as the longest serving CM of Himachal. Parmar has been CM for one more year than Virbhadra.
While Shimla Rural has no royal challenger to counter Virbhadra, Kasumpti segment of Shimla district is witnessing the literal "battle royale". Here one erstwhile "king" Congress’ Anirudh Singh from Koti royal estate is pitted against another erstwhile "queen" Jyoti Sen of Keonthal royalty, an independent.
The battle in Kasumpti has turned into a matter of prestige for the two families and the locals who owe their allegiance to the respective royalties.
Even more interesting is the fact that Jyoti Sen, challenging the Congress here, is the sister-in-law of Virbhadra`s wife Pratibha Singh, former MP from Mandi, who was hoping to contest herself from Kasumpti but was denied the party ticket.
The ticket went instead to youngster Anirudh Singh, currently Shimla Zila Parishad Chairman.
Jyoti Sen, who was also seeking the Congress ticket from Kasumpti, is the daughter-in-law of former Keonthal ruler Hitender Sen.
Speaking to reporters, Pratibha Singh said, "All my efforts to persuade Jyoti to withdraw in Congress` favour have failed."
In another corner, Maheshwar Singh, the descendant of Kullu royal family, is in the race from Kullu assembly seat while his BJP rival is another commoner Ram Singh, a Scheduled Caste.
President of BJP`s breakaway group Himachal Lokhit Party, Maheshwar Singh has twice been BJP state president and MLA starting in 1977 at a young age of 26. He later became Lok Sabha member thrice on the BJP ticket and Rajya Sabha member once.
While Maheshwar is a potential BJP rebel in Kullu, his younger brother Karan Singh, another royal, is contesting from Banjar constituency on the Congress ticket. His BJP challenger is the sitting MLA Khimi Ram, formerly a JBT teacher.
Karan Singh made his political debut in 1990 on a BJP ticket and was education minister in the Dhumal Government. He contested assembly on the BSP ticket in 2007 after being denied a BJP ticket. This time he has dumped the BSP for the Congress which he joined in 2009.
Another "royalty" versus "commoner" battle is on in Dalhousie where AICC secretary Asha Kumari, married into Himachal`s Chamba royal family, is contesting against BJP?s sitting MLA Renu Chadha, former head of the Dalhousie Municipal Council.
"We have fielded commoners wherever possible and they will give a mighty fight to Congress? royal brigade," says Anurag Thakur.
Interestingly, Kumari had easy victories till the time Renu Chadha, formerly from the Congress, had not joined the BJP and started challenging her old colleague.
Asha Kumari won assembly polls thrice in 1993, 1998 and 2003 and this time around has complete support of fellow royal Virbhadra, who addresses her as his "daughter" in rallies.
While political parties are playing their own games in the run up to polls, voters in the state admit that feudal systems still have deep roots in the remote corners and interiors of the state, and the royalty does matter.