"All four Lok Sabha seats in Himachal Pradesh will go to the polls May 7."
By Vishal Gulati

Naggar -, April 21 - She comes from a royal family but sheds her royalty when it comes to wooing voters. Two-time Congress parliamentarian Pratibha Singh, wife of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, has no qualms about folding her hands and bowing her head before commoners.

Pratibha Singh belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Keonthal state, while Virbhadra Singh, popularly known as 'Raja Saab', was born in the former princely state of Bushahr. The 80-year-old six-time chief minister is 23 years older to his wife.

Pratibha Singh is testing her luck in the Mandi parliamentary constituency for the fourth time.

I am a grassroots worker. I have risen from the ground, worked for you and will promise to deliver more results in future too, she says at election meetings.

The people of this area love us not because of the royalty but because we have an emotional bonding with them, Pratibha Singh told IANS.

She said she is familiar with the local issues as she is in regular touch with the people.

I did my best to get the projects pending cleared from the central government. I got Rs.139 crore sanctioned for a water supply scheme in rural areas, she said at a meeting in Naggar, a village 25 km from Kullu town known for Russian painter and philosopher Nicholas Roerich's estate.

On a query from a voter in Serobagh, another village in the Kullu region, about the incompetence of UPA II, she said with patience: We - did a lot in our second innings too. But we have not been able to take the achievements appropriately at the grassroots.

She does not forget to mention the UPA's social welfare programmes like MGNREGA, subsidised food grain and rural health mission.

Pratibha Singh told IANS that she starts her campaign at 9 a.m. and it continues till late at night.

On an average, she holds 8-10 public meetings in a day. In the evening, she holds closed-door meetings with party workers to get their feedback.

Mandi includes the tribal-dominated assembly constituencies of Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Bharmour, and is one of the toughest for campaigns.

For campaigning, we need SUVs, jeeps and even a chopper to reach inaccessible hamlets. Sometimes, we have to trudge miles, she said.

Asked whether her royal bloodline helps her garner support, she replied: It makes no difference. We are commoners and live like any other common man.

Asked whether being a chief minister's wife, she has an edge over her rivals, she told IANS: Virbhadra Singh has done a lot for the state, both as chief minister and as parliamentarian. People give me respect for that; it's natural. But I don't think I get votes because I am chief minister's wife.

Pratibha Singh is also banking on the results of the 2012 state election in which the Congress got a majority and did well in tribal-dominated areas in her constituency.

The Mandi Lok Sabha seat has been a traditional bastion of the Congress all through, and it lost it for the first time in 1977.

Virbhadra Singh was elected thrice from the seat in 1971, 1980 and 2009, while Pratibha Singh won in 2004 and 2013 -.

She had, however, lost to BJP's Maheshwar Singh in 1999 in the constituency.

Another Congress veteran and former telecom minister Sukh Ram was parliamentarian from it in 1984, 1991 and 1996.

This time, the Bharatiya Janata Party - has fielded Ram Swaroop Sharma, who is in the electoral fray for the first time.

Among the 1.1 million voters in Mandi that shares the border with China, around 100,000 are living in tribal areas.

All four Lok Sabha seats in Himachal Pradesh will go to the polls May 7.

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