In Kullu, rules go for a toss to please gods



Kullu: 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 today.

"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 said today.

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."

PTI