Persistent snow in over 1,000 hamlets spread across the higher reaches of Himachal Pradesh is threatening to snowball into a major challenge for political parties in the general elections in this State.
More than 1,000 hamlets are still marooned. Poll officials say these villages are located across Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti districts and interiors of Chamba, Kullu, Sirmaur and Shimla districts.
The political scene in entire Lahaul-Spiti and in most parts in Kinnaur is yet to hot up as the areas are cut off with heavy snow cover piled on roads, Lahaul-Spiti legislator and Congress leader Ravi Thakur said.
He said freezing temperatures and continuous snowfall has been forcing the locals to stay indoors.
Mr. Thakur, vice-chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, said election rallies of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh have been planned in the first week of May when the snow-clearing work is over and a majority of roads reopen.
Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur and some areas of Chamba are part of the sprawling Mandi constituency that covers almost two-thirds of the State. It will see polling on May 7 along with three other constituencies—Shimla (reserved), Kangra and Hamirpur.
“I have toured the entire tribal areas on a number of occasions, both as Chief Minister and a Lok Sabha member,” Virbhadra Singh said.
“I will again go there once the area is accessible by road,” he said.
The Congress has retained Mr. Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh in the Mandi constituency, while the BJP is yet to announce its candidate. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded Kushal Bhardwaj.
Poll officials say 20 booths in Lahaul and Spiti and 25 in Kinnaur are located at an altitude of 9,000 feet to 15,000 feet above sea level. The Pangi segment in Chamba district has over a dozen such stations.
In these areas political parties have to traverse distances ranging from 10 to 25 km on foot, or sometimes on horseback, from the road—head for electioneering.
Around 350 voters will exercise their franchise at Hikkam in Lahaul and Spiti, the world’s highest polling station located at an altitude of over 15,000 feet.
The Hikkam polling station caters to three villages—Komik, Langche and Hikkam—where the night temperature now hovers 10 to 15 degrees Celsius below freezing.
As per records of the State election department, heavy turnout was recorded in the three tribal segments of the Mandi parliamentary constituency in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur districts had recorded 69 per cent polling, while Pangi in Chamba recorded the heaviest turnout in the State— 80 per cent, said a poll official. The poll percentage in the State was 58.4 per cent.
As many as 7,382 polling stations will be set up in the State and 6,855 stations are in villages. Only 527 are located in urban areas. Over 100 polling booths are located above 10,000 feet.
Neeraj Sharma, officer on special duty with the State election department, said the State’s remotest polling station in Bara Bhangal in the Baijnath segment in the Kangra parliamentary constituency has been shifted to Bir owing to administrative reasons.
As per electoral rolls of the 2012 Assembly elections, the Bara Bhangal booth has 45 voters, including 19 women.
The meteorological office in Shimla said most of the higher reaches in the State experienced moderate to heavy snowfall and the western disturbances would be active again in the region from March 27 onwards.
The Lahaul Valley, comprising over two dozen small, scattered villages some 350 km from Shimla, is entirely cut off owing to heavy snow accumulation in the Rohtang Pass (13,050 feet)— the only connection with Manali in Kullu district.
“We are awaiting the reopening of the road link. Most of our family members every year migrate to Manali before the closure of road links in December and come back with the reopening of roads,” said Shiv Parkash, a resident of Keylong, district headquarters of Lahaul-Spiti.