Historic Female Contest in Lahaul & Spiti: Anuradha Rana Breaks 52-Year Barrier

On June 1, the Lahaul & Spiti assembly segment in Himachal Pradesh will witness a historic bypoll as Anuradha Rana becomes the first woman candidate in 52 years. If victorious, she will be the second woman to represent the seat, potentially marking a significant shift in local political dynamics.

PTI | Shimla | Updated: 23-05-2024 17:38 IST | Created: 23-05-2024 17:38 IST
Historic Female Contest in Lahaul & Spiti: Anuradha Rana Breaks 52-Year Barrier
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The Lahaul & Spiti assembly segment in Himachal Pradesh, where a bypoll will be held on June 1, will witness a woman contesting for the first time in 52 years.

If she wins, the Congress' Anuradha Rana will become the second woman legislator to represent the seat in the assembly after Lata Thakur won the constituency for the grand old party in 1972.

Located in the Himalayas, the Lahaul & Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh is something of an anomaly.

A barren and difficult-to-cross terrain, surrounded by lofty ranges, it makes up 25 per cent of Himachal Pradesh's land area but the assembly segment, which covers the entire district, only has 25,967 voters.

In the bypoll, Rana -- a firebrand leader and the zila parishad chairperson -- will take on Lata Thakur's son Ravi Thakur, her predecessor who won the seat for the Congress in the 2022 assembly elections before being disqualified from the House.

Ravi Thakur was one of six Congress MLAs disqualified from the assembly for defying a party whip to be present in the House and vote in favour of the government. The disqualified MLAs later joined the BJP and were fielded from their respective constituencies on a saffron party ticket.

Alongside Lahaul & Spiti, bypolls will be held in Dharamshala, Sujanpur, Gagret, Badsar and Kutlehar. Turning the contest in Lahaul & Spiti into a triangular fight is Ram Lal Markanda, a former three-time MLA and a minister in the state government, who is contesting as an Independent after being denied a ticket from the seat. Markanda resigned from the BJP after the saffron party named Ravi Thakur as its candidate and announced his decision to contest the bypoll as an Independent.

This is, however, not the first time that Ravi Thakur and Markanda have come face to face on the electoral field, having faced each other in the 2012, 2017 and 2022 assembly elections.

The BJP's decision to field the Congress rebels from their respective seats has caused ripples in the party and it is facing a rebellion from the local cadre in Lahaul & Spiti, Dharamshala and Sujanpur.

In the 13 elections held since 1967, Devi Singh Thakur represented Lahaul & Spiti in the assembly on four occasions -- as an Independent in 1967, for the Janata Party in 1977, and the Congress in 1982 and 1985.

Markanda was elected to the assembly thrice -- in 1998 as a Himachal Vikas Congress candidate and in 2007 and 2017 for the BJP.

Ravi Thakur won the seat on a Congress ticket in 2012 and 2022.

Phunchog Rai of the Congress won the seat in 1990 and 1993 while Devi Singh Thakur's son Raghuvir Singh Thakur was elected in 2003.

The six Congress rebels have been facing a barrage of attacks from Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, who is appealing to the electorate to defeat them for ''selling their conscience for money'' and betraying the Congress.

Ravi Thakur, however, fired back at Sukhu, saying the state's Congress government has taken on loans of Rs 18,000 crore since assuming power in November 2022 and alleged that even party MLAs are not aware where the funds are going.

Lahaul & Spiti is one of the 17 assembly segments under the Mandi Lok Sabha constituency, from where the BJP has fielded actor Kangana Ranaut.

The actor was recently shown black flags when she reached Kaza in Spiti for an election campaign with Ravi Thakur and former chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, allegedly over a meme of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama she had shared on social media.

Locals demand greater connectivity and development and are conscious of the impact that the Atal Tunnel, an all-weather road to Lahaul, has had on the area. They are demanding a tunnel beneath the Shinkula Pass to link Lahaul with Ladakh's Zanskar Valley and both the Congress and the BJP have promised to take up construction of more underpasses.

The BJP's Ravi Thakur told PTI that providing drinking water, irrigation of dry lands for horticulture and religious and adventure tourism are his priorities.

Markanda claimed the budget for Lahaul & Spiti has been reduced by Rs 60 crore in the past two years and his focus will be on increasing subsidies for agriculture and horticulture in the district, besides tourism promotion.

Rana told PTI that she will stress on promoting sustainable tourism, build roads to far-flung areas, provide irrigation for the dry land, develop infrastructure in disaster-hit areas and grant rights to the tribal communities. In the assembly polls of 2022, the tribal-dominated constituency recorded a turnout of 73.74 per cent. The figure for 2017 was 73.70 per cent, 75.68 per cent in 2012, 73.80 per cent in 2007 and 77.77 per cent in 2003. There are 25,967 voters in the constituency, of which 13,293 men and 12,676 women.

Simultaneous polls for Himachal Pradesh's four Lok Sabha seats and the six assembly bypolls will be held on June 1.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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