It is not often that the sitting MLA of a constituency wins wholesome praise from constituents in village after village, despite those areas having very poor road infrastructure. But in the case of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur’s constituency Seraj, villagers say what he has accomplished for the area in 5 years could not have been done in 50 or 100 years.
The road from Pandoh to Kanda is a dusty stretch, strewn with stones in parts and being widened by JCBs in others. It is an excruciating and time-consuming journey up the road, as vehicles can only crawl at a slow speed.
But no blame is being apportioned by voters of the area to the five-time MLA Jai Ram Thakur, who is now seeking re-election for a sixth time — the first as a sitting Chief Minister. He has represented this constituency since 1998 and is the first CM of Himachal from Mandi district.
“Pachaas saal ke kaam paanch saal mein kar diya hai,” (50 years’ work has been done in 5 years) says 77-year-old Lalman in village Bada, as a swirl of dust enters his shop due to a bus passing by. He says the poor condition of the road is because the contractor “ran away” during the Covid crisis. He adds that a new contractor has now taken up the task and expresses hope it shall soon be completed.
“He (Jai Ram Thakur) knows the entire area. You just have to tell him what needs to be done and he does it,” says Lalman.
He points to a road network under construction on a mountain range across the valley and says all this had been done by the CM. “Who else could have gotten it done? It costs so much money,” he says.
When asked if the CM visits his constituency often, he says, “He comes here as often as he can. He has heavy responsibility. His men here do the job for him. He tells us there is no need to come to Shimla to meet and ask for work to be done. It will be done here only,” he says.
This backward area of Mandi district has pristine locales which could be a good draw for tourists, and efforts have been made towards improving connectivity to the area and by improving the infrastructure.
Near Pandoh, an eco-tourism nature resort is coming up in Bakhli village, and a cable bridge with black-top road has come up connecting the main highway near Hanogi Mata temple to the villages on the opposite side of the valley, fulfilling a long-pending demand.
Daulat Ram points at the eco-tourism project from the back of his multi-storeyed house-cum-shop which overlooks the valley.
“A ropeway is also expected to come up in this valley to connect the eco-tourism project. This resort land was lying useless. But now it has been put to good use by Jai Ram Thakur,” says Daulat Ram.
Like Lalman, Daulat Ram also attributes the poor quality of roads to the Covid pandemic enforced disruption. “This is a more picturesque area than Manali, but that’s where tourists flock. Sundarta ki kami nahi hai yahan (there is no dearth of natural beauty here). Now tourists will come here.
All of Seraj is now connected via that bridge,” he says.
He adds that people of the constituency fear that if the Congress wins, all projects will come to a halt. “They will divert funds to their own localities,” he says in apprehension.
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Unemployment is an issue in the constituency, with many people still looking for a full-time job. Near Khayogi village, young Ved Kumar, a Class XII student, is sitting by the dusty roadside awaiting a bus. He says his father is ‘berozgar’ (unemployed) and makes do with little bit of farming. “He had got a job temporarily at a crusher but even that project shut down,” he says. Ved Kumar intends to attend an ITI for a diploma after finishing Class XII and look for a job. He says the road has been under construction since last three years.
Further up the road near Keolidhar, 60-year-old Krishan, a small farmer, says although the CM has done a lot, much more needs to be done.
“People are never satisfied. This is a difficult area. We grow peas, potatoes, jowar and wheat. In winters this area faces lot of difficulties. Electricity supply is generally good. Medical facilities are also available. Water supply is an issue,” he says. When pointed out a tap on the roadside, he says it gives no water most of the time.
Off the main track, in village Bah, Ram Chander is busy scaring away monkeys with a sling shot. “Hanuman ji ke liye khada hoon. Matar khaane aa jaate hain. Maante nahin (I an standing here for Hanuman ji. They come to eat peas. They just don’t listen),” he says.
Ram Chander is also of the view that a lot has been done in the constituency. “What could have been done in 100 years has been done,” he says, revising the 50-year figure peddled by Lalman further up the road.