The crowd along the roadside at Dabrah, on way from Udhampur town towards Pancheri, has been waiting for Vikramaditya Singh for over an hour. As the scion of the erstwhile Dogra royal family and the Congress candidate for Udhampur-Doda parliamentary constituency arrives, he doesn’t disappoint, obliging a request to visit the nearby house of former sarpanch Raj Sharma.
In his battle against sitting BJP MP Jitendra Singh, who enjoys some national profile now having been MoS, PMO, in the Modi government, Vikramaditya knows what he has behind him: lasting affection among people here for the royal family and his father Karan Singh. While he has been a nominated MLC, this is the 54-year-old’s first election, and Vikramaditya has a lot of ground to cover, with Udhampur-Doda spread over 24,000 sq km. The constituency votes on April 18. On Sunday, the Prime Minister held a rally in Kathua in Jitendra Singh’s support.
Vikramaditya tells the crowd of their relationship with his family, including the four terms Karan Singh served as Udhampur-Doda MP. Karan Singh’s wins included one in 1977 as the Congress candidate beating the Janata Party wave, and another in 1980 as a Congress (U) nominee against a post-Emergency Indira Gandhi wave.
Sitting in a small room, Vikramaditya says, “The relationship between your family and mine is not political but historic.” He talks about “the sweat and blood” shed by his ancestors in creating J&K and asks people to give him a chance to serve them too.
At Kirmchi Mansar, which has about 1,200 voters, Vikramaditya is received by a jubilant crowd of nearly 200 people at the house of sarpanch Sharief Hussain. Those assembled complain about non-payment of MGNREGA wages and subsidies under the direct benefit transfer scheme due to discrepancies in their Aadhaar card.
Attacking the BJP, Vikramaditya says it makes false promises and divides people. “You know their ideology and the politics they play… They have divided people in the name of religion and polarised society.”
Click here for more election news
The next halt, Khour Gali, is 80 km away. The journey is covered over a largely kuchcha, potholed road, with many stretches under water flowing down from the hills. Vikramaditya makes a brief halt at Panghara, and as villagers complain about bad roads, poor healthcare facilities and scarce drinking water, he says, “Is this development? It (the road) was blacktop during the reign of the Congress government (2002-08).”
In nearby villages, anger is running high over the incomplete rehabilitation of residents of Saddal village, hit by a landslide during the 2014 floods. A resident, Khem Raj, says, “The village was adopted by Jitendra Singh. But of the 132 families, he shifted only 45 to Udhampur.”
Numerous people walk up to Vikramaditya to tell him of their connection to his ancestors. Kandoli panch Raghbir Singh talks about his grandfather Amar Singh being a driver of Maharaja Hari Singh; Mongri sarpanch Kailash Devi tells Vikramaditya that an ancestor of his had set up a school in their village.
Clearly happy, Vikramaditya tells The Indian Express, “I thought times have changed… it is a new generation. But even today, they feel happy that a person from the royal family has come to listen to their problems. They expect you to play your role as the head of the family… They feel very strongly that ours is one family which can help them.”
But if this feeling resonates in the hilly areas of the constituency, the BJP has been gaining in urban centres. Last time, Jitendra Singh had won by nearly 60,000 votes against Congress stalwart and joint Congress-NCP candidate Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Acknowledging the fight for the urban vote, Vikramaditya says, “We have to build on what we have.”
And again he comes back to what he has: his family and goodwill for it. Talking of how Maharaja Hari Singh had set up the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, opened doors of temples for SCs, he says his father is campaigning for him, as is wife Chitrangada Raje Singh and son Martand Singh, an engineering student. Also helping out is son-in-law, Nirvan Singh, a scion of the erstwhile Patiala royal family.