How an age-old royal 'loon and lota' custom plays a deciding role in Himachal Pradesh elections

Tikender Panwar
Tikender PanwarNov 09, 2017 | 20:42

How an age-old royal 'loon and lota' custom plays a deciding role in Himachal Pradesh elections

As Himachal Pradesh went to the polls today, the past week saw the leaders on their toes, scurrying for votes.

A dialogue between the voters and the vote-seekers with respect to their manifestos, vision, perspective, and of course their past record of work generally feature in such last-minute visits.

But we all know that there is more than what meets the eyes. And that includes deploying the machineries of the caste and class politics. In a democracy like ours, where feudal relations are not just strong, but deeply prevalent, invoking such factors does not arouse surprise. But as far as Himachal Pradesh is concerned, there is more.


The custom of "loon and lota"

This is a hilarious practice. At the same time, this is the most outrageous custom, which can awfully kill the basic tenets of democracy. 

Its power to decide who votes whom can't be dismissed and this practice is prevalent in the old Himachal along with the regions of Shimla, Sirmour, parts of Solan, Kullu and Mandi.

This custom is generally used by the so-called "royal clans" of the state, and there are 36 such clans. Interestingly, every time there are a few contestants from such clans.

Professor Javed Alam, a former political science professor of the Himachal Pradesh University, and also the former chairperson of the Indian council of social science and research (ICSSR) used to remark, "If one needs to understand the political outcome of the elections, just keep an eye on the movement of the feudal lords of the state." Their grip is so powerful that a large number of the people will still follow what they say.

What is this "loon and lota" custom?

loon_110917065254.jpgPhoto: Tikender Panwar

As the name implies, "loon" means salt and "lota" is a round, metal pot, available almost in every house of the state. Just before the elections, the so-called kardars (men of the deity) will approach the people and take "loon" in one hand and "lota" in another and will ask them to promise their votes to the "royal" contestant. Then a mantra is recited, concluding the age-old custom. At least one in the family now will have to vote according to the kardar.


lota_110917065331.jpgPhoto: Tikender Panwar

The institution of the deity in Himachal is centuries old. Even after widespread land reforms in the state, the God-fearing people think that if they failed to honour the deity's command, they would invite divine wrath, resulting in sin (dosh).

No, the prey is not only the uneducated voters. The educated voters, too, are overwhelmed by this practice. Yes, the Dalits are the obvious targets. The institution is so strong that there are instances of people consulting the deity instead of a doctor in case of any illness.

People like a former vice-chancellor of the University in Himachal Pradesh preferred to visit the oracle for his continuous illness to ensure that all his "sins are intact". This is the ideological strength of the institution, and "loon and lota" is just a manifestation.

This time, a few contestants from such royal clans are in the fray, both from the BJP and the Congress, including Virbhadra Singh (contesting from Arki), who hails from the Bushahr state. Then there is his son, contesting from Shimla (R). In both the constituencies, it is difficult to believe that this custom will be used to garner votes, as these constituencies are not the natural 'deities' of the region.


Arki had its princely state from Dhar in Madhya Pradesh and Shimla (R) had Dhami and Bhajji as its "deity" states. But in Kusampti, where the contest is between Anirugh Singh (Congress) from the Koti clan and Jyoti Sen from the Junga family, this may become a deciding factor.

Similarly, Maheshwar Singh from the Roopi family of Kullu is contesting from Kullu Assembly segment from the BJP. His nephew, Aditya Singh, son of a former minister, is contesting from the Banjar constituency from the Congress. The influence of "loon and lota" cannot be overruled.

Though the Election Commission of India has widely publicised the alluring methods of money, liquor and other such activities as undemocratic, the "loon and lota" failed to draw its attention.

Last updated: November 09, 2017 | 20:42
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