‘Son’ rise in Himachal politics? Royal family to crown scion at iconic Kangra Fort after 400 yrs

‘Son’ rise in Himachal politics? Royal family to crown scion at iconic Kangra Fort after 400 yrs

Aishwarya Chandra Katoch, son of senior Congress leader Chandresh Kumari, will be coronated Thursday. Will not let party & people down, if given a chance, he says.


A file photo of senior Congress leader Chandresh Kumari (centre) with the Dalai Lama and son Aishwarya Chandra Katoch, who will be coronated at the Kangra fort. | Photo credit: royalkangra.com

Shimla: After a span of almost 400 years, Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra fort will witness the coronation ceremony of the 489th king of the royal family of the region on Thursday.

The royal family of Kangra — politically associated with the Congress party — will coronate 52-year-old Aishwarya Chandra Katoch, son of the former scion Aditya Dev Chand Katoch and Chandresh Kumari, a senior Congress leader, former state minister and Union minister, in the Ambika Devi Temple inside the fort, a family loyalist told ThePrint.

Aditya Dev Chand died on 30 December 2021.

Raghav Guleria, who works for the promotions of Kangra art and literature and is close to the royal family, told ThePrint that no religious functions are undertaken in the family for a year following bereavement. 

“We decide to hold this ceremony in the Ambika Devi temple in Kangra fort. My family has a strong bond with the people of this region. We have served them for years. For me, this ceremony is an occasion to take the blessings from Kuldevi so that I can serve my people like my ancestors,” Aishwarya Chandra Katoch, a Congress party member, who was state secretary from 2019 to 2020, told ThePrint. 

The state politics has always seen a royal touch. Former chief minister and Congress leader Virbhadra Singh — the scion of erstwhile Bushahr state (now part of the Shimla district) — dominated the state’s political scene for over four decades.

Local residents say such functions are important not only socially but politically as well, as it revitalises the royal family’s association with the people of the region. 

“The royal family has a connect with the people, this ceremony will freshen it up. Since they have been away from electoral politics for almost ten years, people do not have much to say against them,” Jagdev Chand, a shopkeeper in Kangra, said.

Notably, Chandresh Kumari, who first entered the Himachal assembly on a Congress ticket in 1972 and has represented the party from three different constituencies, lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Jodhpur seat (in Rajasthan). Since then — for almost a decade now — the royal family of Kangra remained in political oblivion. 

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Political importance of Kangra 

Comprising 15 assembly segments, the Kangra region is politically sensitive in the state. The caste factor runs deep and none of the major parties can afford to ignore it while fielding candidates during the parliamentary or state polls.

The Kangra Lok Sabha seat has almost equal dominance (in terms of vote share) of Rajput and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) followed by Dalits and Brahmins.

Political scientist Rajendra Singh, a retired professor of the Himachal Pradesh University, said that the Kangra Lok Sabha segment has over 30 per cent population each of OBCs and Rajputs, whereas Brahmins consist of around 15 per cent population. 

According to the 2011 Census, Kangra has around 21 per cent Dalit population (roughly 18 per cent votes). In 2022, both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fielded OBC candidates. However, ahead of the assembly election, Congress candidate Pawan Kajal, who was legislator from Kangra assembly segment, joined the BJP which fielded Kishan Kapoor. 

That year Congress won 10 of total 15 assembly seats in the region, according to reports. However, Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu made only one cabinet minister from Kangra district — Chandra Kumar (OBC leader). Kuldeep Singh Pathania, the MLA from Bhattiyat (in Chamba), was made the speaker of Vidhan Sabha. 

Political analyst Singh said that anyone from the royal family could be the best bet for the Congress party. “It has been more than 30 years to have a Rajput MP from Kangra. To have a Rajput face in Kangra is a plus for any political party,” he said.

BJP’s D.D. Khanoria was the last Rajput MP from Kangra in 1991. 

Katoch family & 2024 Lok Sabha polls 

“Chandresh Kumari is a big name in Kangra politics. She successfully represented three different constituencies in the state assembly,” said Guleria. 

Kumari was first elected to the Himachal assembly on a Congress ticket in 1972 from  Bamsan in Hamirpur district, according to the government data. She became the state minister before she got elected as Lok Sabha member from Kangra in 1984. Kumari has also served as Rajya Sabha member in 1996 and remained president of All India Mahila Congress from 1999 to 2003. 

In 2003, she was elected to the assembly for the third time from Dharamshala and remained the health minister for almost a year.

In order to follow the 91st Constitutional Amendment, the then CM Virbhadra Singh downsized the cabinet and had dumped Chandresh Kumari, tourism minister Vijai Singh Mankotia and revenue minister Brij Bihari Butail.  

The 91st constitutional amendment states that the total number of ministers, including the Chief Minister, in the Council of Ministers shall not exceed 15 per cent of the total membership of the state legislature.

Chandresh Kumari successfully contested the 2009 Lok Sabha polls from Jodhpur and became the Union culture minister in 2012 during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. However, she lost from the same seat in 2014.   

From Kangra, Congress, so far, has no big name to field as its Lok Sabha candidate for the 2024 general election.

Talking about the political significance of the family, Aishwarya said, “My mother has been serving the people for almost 55 years. She remained minister here, then in the central government, got elected from here and Jodhpur. People love our family.”

“Our family is with the Congress. I am still with the party. If the party gives my family a chance to carry the mantle, we will not let the party and our people down,” he added.

Royal touch in state politics 

Vikramaditya Singh, son of former CM Virbhadra Singh and a two-time MLA from Shimla rural assembly constituency (in 2017 and 2022), is the public works minister. Virbhadra’s wife Pratibha Singh is MP from Mandi and heads the Congress state unit. 

Three-time MLA from Kasumpati and rural development minister Rana Anirudh Singh is from the erstwhile royal family of Koti.

Another Congress leader and former MLA Asha Kumari, who hails from the royal family of Dalhousie in Chamba, lost to BJP’s D.S.Thakur in 2022

The BJP also has some royal families associated with it. Maheshwar Singh — scion of royal family of Kullu — a former party president (1990), Lok Sabha member from Mandi (1989,1998 and 1999) and MLA from Kullu (1977,1982,2012). However, the party dropped him in the 2022 assembly elections. 

Another such family associated with the BJP from Junga. Vijay Jyoti Sen, Rajmata of the erstwhile Junga princely state and sister-in-law of Pratibha Singh, had unsuccessfully contested MLA election in 2017.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

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