Thirty-five long years after his father and Dogra scion Dr Karan Singh faced first defeat after getting people’s mandate for 18 years, Jammu and Kashmir’s last ruler Maharaja Hari Singh’s grandson Vikramaditya Singh is aiming to reclaim the Udhampur-Doda parliamentary constituency in the Lok Sabha elections.
Vikramaditya, who has remained a businessman for most of his life before joining politics in 2015, is testing the electoral waters for the first time. His inclusion in the poll fray on Congress’ ticket has made it a battle of Singh vs Singh vs Singh vs Singh, as four favourites among the total 12 candidates all belong to Rajput clan.
Supported by major regional players NC and PDP, Vikramaditya will be taking on sitting MP Jitendra Singh (BJP), BJP rebel Lal Singh and Harshdev Singh (JKNPP).
While Jitendra will be riding on the agenda on development—and fairly so– during his tenure as a union minister in Modi government, Harshdev enjoys good support among voters in Udhampur district and its surrounding.
However, the biggest red in the way of Vikramaditya is Lal Singh—the hardliner representative of Dogra pride, the legacy on which Vikramaditya is banking on to see himself through the four-way battle.
Affection with Udhampur. And Son.
Perhaps, it is the fear of the same pride being cashed upon by others that Dr Karan Singh, a congress legend, has jumped into campaigning for his son, for the first time in 35 years, even as some big royal names have toured the region to mobilize support for Vikramaditya.
Comprising of six districts and 17 assembly segments, the Udhampur parliamentary constituency had reposed faith in Dr Karan Singh for four successive terms. The crown prince had fought the first elections from the constituency in 1967 after quitting the Raj Bhavan, won and became the youngest-ever member of the Union cabinet.
After a 19-year stint as the regent of the state, the first and last Sadr-i-Riyasat, and first governor, Dr Karan Singh went on to represent Udhampur in the parliament for 18 years till 1984, when he after having split his ways with Congress’ main faction, sought his re-nomination as an independent candidate but lost to Congress’ Girdhari Lal Dogra, another widely-respected Dogra.
Ever since he rejoined the Congress, Dr Karan Singh has never been a part of party’s election campaigning.
However, this time it is different.
At 88, the son of Maharaja Hari Singh–the last ruler of the state, Dr Karan Singh is spearheading the planning and execution of Vikramaditya’s poll campaign. He started last week with a hugely-attended rally at Udhampur, the first of over 20 events planned across the 17 assembly segments in six districts which form this parliamentary Constituency.
While his own influence is not to be questioned, Dr Karan has made the pitch for his son even more royal and strong as Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, and Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia be arriving here to seek opportunity for Vikramaditya on April 12 and April 15.
Vikramaditya’s daughter, Mriganka, is married to the grandson of Amarinder Singh, while his wife Chitrangada Singh is the sister of Jyotiraditya.
The Four Way Rajput Battle
Though the battle royale to be fought on April 18 features 12 players, there are only four heavyweights and all of them share a thing among them—the Rajput clan, making it a battle of Singh vs Singh vs Singh vs Singh.
Before March 20, it looked like incumbent BJP MP and Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh was cruising to reelection as his competition would have been spread across various shares of the candidates to be fielded by NC, PDP and Congress, even as his performance was not too bad since 2014.
However, that fateful afternoon, NC and Congress matured a pre-poll alliance with former supporting the latter in both seats of Jammu. Vikramaditya’s chances increased when the other major player PDP decided not to field its candidate against him, “to consolidate secular votes.”
While Jitendra also banks on a number of developmental strides made during his tenure, he largely relies on the strong Modi wave, which had helped him triumph over Congress leader and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in 2014, and cannot be written off, five year later.
However, his challenge now is fighting the erstwhile royal Vikramaditya who is likely to bag majority of anti-BJP votes, even as a sizeable chunk would be cut by JKNPP’s Harshdev Singh.
There is also the Lal factor which would play a decisive role in the election.
The BJP rebel had represented Udhampur on Congress ticket in the parliament before Jitendra. And had Congress not denied him ticket in 2014, we would have been seeing a different dimension to this contest.
However, they did, prompting Lal to switch to BJP in 2014. Lal fought Assembly elections and won and became a minister in BJP-PDP before he was forced to resign from the cabinet for attending pro-Kathua rape accused rally around the same time last year.
Seeking mandate from his recently floated Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan, Lal would cut significantly into BJP’s vote share, than Congress, making it a bit easy for Vikramaditya.
Or is it so?
The Dogra Pride
Very few knew much about Dr Karan Singh’s elder son Vikramaditya—a Hotelier by profession, before he joined PDP in August 2015, though his other son Ajatshatru Singh was one of the youngest in the state to become a cabinet minister in 1996.
Away from the public eye, Vikramaditya was quietly running his hotel business in Himachal Pradesh when he decided to engage in active politics and was welcomed into party fold by then party patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and her daughter Mehbooba Mufti as the PDP’s face in Jammu.
Vikramaditya’s first remarks as PDP leader on August 7, 2015 were: “Jammu region was being systematically sidelined and a desire to bring about a change brought me to the political arena.”
PDP formed a government with BJP in 2015 and Vikramaditya was subsequently nominated as a Member of Legislative Council.
Only two year and two months later, he resigned both as an MLC and from the party.
His statement on the afternoon of October 22, 2017 was: “I have publicly expressed my concerns for Jammu region over the last several months but the party has rejected the issues. I feel that it is neither morally nor ethically right for me to continue as a member of a party which disregarded the demands and aspirations of Jammu region.”
The main reason behind Vikramaditya quitting was his demand for a public holiday on the birth anniversary of his grandfather Maharaja Hari Singh, which was not met either by PDP or its coalition partner BJP.
Six months after Vikramaditya’s departure from PDP, its coalition partner BJP forced Lal Singh to resign as the minister in the cabinet for attending a rally in the support of Kathua-rape accused.
“Listen, people of Rasana. If someone lifts their finger at you, I assure you that we will deal with them. We are Dogras. We have fought for centuries,” Lal had told a rapt audience in that rally on March 1, 2018.
“I will continue to fight for the Jammu and its people. My demand for CBI probe remains,” Lal had said soon after his resignation on April 14, last year.
While it may be debated if he did what he promised, but Lal immediately became the flag-bearer of Dogra pride. To make himself indispensable, Lal had to consolidate his support among the Dogras and thus came the Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan, helping him carve out his own unique space in Jammu politics.
The DSS’s flag features the Tricolour, with an image of a lion and a goat drinking water together in the middle of it—depicting the fable of King Jambu Lochan, after whom Jammu has been named.
While Jitendra’s chances of re-nomination are still bright, if a little difficult, the biggest red in Maharaja’s grandson Vikramaditya’s way to reclaim his father’s legacy in Udhampur is Lal–a man who invokes the Maharaja every time he addresses public– “Jai Duggar, Jai Dogra”, a man who climbs up sky sitting in an excavator to garland Maharaja’s grand statue on his birth anniversary, and a man whose recall value as a protector of Dogra pride has grown much greater than even Maharaja’s real scions.
The Other Royal
While three generations of the royal family are burning the midnight oil to help Vikramaditya, not everyone in the family is on his side.
Even as father Dr Karan Singh and son Martand Singh were busy mobilising support for Vikramaditya, his younger brother Ajatshatru Singh welcomed the party chief Amit Shah last Wednesday at his rally in support of Vikramaditya’s rival Dr Jitendra Singh, revealing the fault line in the family.Two years younger to Vikramditya, Ajatshatru had entered politics 24 years before his elder brother. In fact, Ajatshatru was one of the youngest in the state to become a cabinet minister in 1996 during the tenure of Farooq Abdullah-led National Conference.
However, only three months after Vikramaditya entered politics, Ajatshatru also switched to the Bharatiya Janata Party in presence of party’s President Amit Shah.
On April 3, Ajatshatru was the BJP leader who welcomed Shah and offered him a Dogra turban at the party’s election rally at Udhampur.
The election rally by Shah was part of BJP’s election campaigning in the favour of Dr Jitendra Singh, Vikramaditya’s rival from BJP.