Lok Sabha Election 2024: Can Kangana Ranaut's Bollywood Glamour Cut It For BJP in Mandi?

The impact of the BJP’s decision to field Kangana Ranaut in Mandi on the social and political scene in Himachal Pradesh is palpable.

PTI Photo
BJP candidate Kangana Ranaut and former CM Jai Ram Thakur in Mandi, April 1, 2024 PTI Photo

In the 18th Lok Sabha elections, all eyes are on the Mandi seat in Himachal Pradesh because of its links with Bollywood. Once known as the royal mandi (market) of various kingdoms, it seems to have turned into a veritable theatre of politics these days. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has stepped into a minefield of controversy by fielding the feisty Rajput actress Kangana Ranaut in this prestigious constituency.

Mandi is considered a ‘safe seat’ for the BJP as nine out of 10 seats in Mandi district are currently held by the party. Even in the Mandi parliamentary constituency, which it lost to the Congress in the last by-election, the difference in votes between the two parties was marginal.

The impact of the BJP’s decision to field Kangana in Mandi on the social and political scene in Himachal is palpable. Ever since the announcement of her candidature, the fiery actress has been badgered by an avalanche of trolls on social media. The impact of Dev Samaj of Himachal Pradesh on the actress at the receiving end of trolls has been rather perceptible. However, the social media managers of the actress have also returned fire.

Meanwhile, the Congress is yet to announce its candidate from Mandi to contest against Kangana. Once it is announced, the fight in Mandi featuring a top film star will go to the next level.

The politics of the Mandi seat in Himachal Pradesh has been both controversial and interesting over the years as candidates in the past have hardly come from humble backgrounds. Maheshwar Singh, who hails from a royal family, represented the seat three times, while Virbhadra Singh and his wife Pratibha Singh were MPs from here for two terms. Former Union Minister Pandit Sukhram has also won the Lok Sabha elections thrice. Virbhadra belongs to Bushahr estate, Maheshwar to Kullu, while former Union minister Sukhram hails from Mandi district.

Incidentally, Jairam Thakur had lost the elections from here, but he consolidated his position after becoming Chief Minister, so much so that he helped a Sangh worker, Ram Swaroop Sharma, to a thumping victory from this seat in 2019. Later, in a by-election necessitated by his death, Congress candidate Pratibha Singh won the seat with 49.23 per cent of the vote, even though Jairam was then still leading the BJP government in the state.

In fact, elections to the Mandi Lok Sabha seat have added a new dimension to the state's politics every time. This time, the BJP has backed a Bollywood celebrity. But even before Kangana’s candidature was announced, Pratibha Singh of the Congress declared that she was not willing to contest the elections. It is widely believed that Pratibha did not want to contest because of the Narendra Modi wave. Therefore, she also spoke about the alleged neglect of party workers from Mandi under the incumbent Congress government in the state.

There is no denying the fact that Mandi became a hot seat as soon as Kangana’s name was announced by the BJP. While party workers were stunned to see the superstar in person, senior party functionaries in Mandi were marginalised for her charisma as soon as she landed in their constituency. Though the flamboyant star immediately connected with voters by denying all allegations levelled against her in a local dialect called Mandyali, her next challenge is apparently to connect with voters who speak different dialects, from a mix of Sarkaghati and Bilaspuri to Pangi, Lahaul, Rampur, Chhatri, Seraj and many others.

Currently, there are 17 assembly constituencies in the Mandi parliamentary seat, including four in Kullu district and one each in Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul, Spiti and Shimla. There are also nine seats in Mandi district. The dialects spoken in these six districts are different.

In these 17 assembly segments, the fight between BJP and Congress is very close. But the BJP is getting a large vote share from Jairam's Seraj seat, Anil Sharma's Mandi, Janakraj's Bharmour and Rakesh Jamwal's Sundernagar seat. This has obviously improved Kangana's prospects.

But her difficulties are no less. The Congress stepped up its attacks on her as soon as the election campaign began. Whether it is Kangana's glamorous pictures, her outspoken statements or her eating habits, the Congress has started revisiting many old issues concerning her to portray her image as an opponent of the core ideology of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP. This could create additional problems for her in the run-up to the elections.

Moreover, the apparent displeasure of former MP and senior BJP leader from Kullu Maheshwar Singh over her candidature and his considerable Dev Samaj influence may not pave the way for her success the way it did for a humble party worker like Ram Swaroop in the last general elections. The unity of the erstwhile royal families in the region too could come into play if someone from the Virbhandra Singh family joins the campaign.

Nonetheless, Kangana's glamorous image has dimmed the lustre of a major local leader in this constituency, which could affect the outcome of this election as well. As a bold actress, Kangana is very popular among the youth. From this perspective, the votes of her fans could help her win the election even if the party workers are not fond of her.

Meanwhile, the Congress seems to be sensing the mood. It is biding its time before announcing its candidate. Prominent leaders like Pratibha Singh, Vikramaditya Singh or Maheshwar Singh could be the party’s hidden weapons. If Virbhadra’s son Vikramaditya decides to run, Kangana's problems could become even bigger. Like his late father, Singh is also very popular among the youth.

For the record, in the 2021 Lok Sabha by-election, Congress candidate Pratibha Singh received 365,650 votes while Khushal Singh of the BJP got 356,664 votes. The difference in votes between them was only 1.18 per cent. In the earlier 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Ram Swaroop Sharma of the BJP got 647,189 votes while Ashray Sharma of the Congress got 241,730 votes. The difference in votes at that time was 43 per cent. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Ram Swaroop of the BJP got 362,824 votes while Pratibha Singh of the Congress got 322,968 votes. The difference at that time was 5.5 per cent.


All these factors make the election in Mandi particularly exciting this time. Whether voters will be swayed by the glamour of a Bollywood celebrity and vote for her in the name of Modi and his development agenda or simply support her opponent will be known on the day of counting on June 4.

(The writer is a senior political commentator based in Shimla)