Jai Ram Thakur for Himachal Pradesh chief minister – Yehi hai right choice BJP!
After six days of hectic parleys, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has declared Jai Ram Thakur as its chief minister in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh. The decision is politically in the right direction and has the potential to benefit the party in the long run. His taking over the driver's seat is all set to bring about a paradigm shift in Himachal politics.
Thakur was nowhere in the race for the top post when the party launched its poll campaign. It had the anti-incumbency against the Virbhadra Singh Congress government to its advantage along with the tradition of Himachal bringing in alternative forces to power every five years.
But the loss of BJP's chief ministerial face Prem Kumar Dhumal from Sujanpur seat landed him a windfall as he emerged a top contender for the post along with the Union Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda even as Dhumal supporters demanded that he be made the CM despite losing his seat.
However, in a bid to clear the fog, Dhumal came out with a statement on Saturday night, saying he was not in the race. To send across the message of unity within its ranks, the BJP got Dhumal to propose Thakur's name for the post of the CM and it was Nadda who seconded it.
The oath-taking ceremony will be held on Wednesday and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend the event.
Fifty-three-year-old Thakur's name for the top post had emerged when he was summoned to Delhi on 18 December when it became clear that the BJP was set to form the government in the hill state after a five-year gap.
One needs to understand the factors that worked in favour of Thakur.
Observers say that the very first thing is the political tussle that the state has seen between Rajputs and Brahmins. Thakur, like Dhumal, comes from the former while Nadda represents the latter. There was resentment among the Brahmin support-base of the party this time at the Brahmins not getting a substantial number of tickets.
Second, Nadda carried the baggage of making a lot of noise and delivering little in his earlier avatar as the forest and environment minister in the state.
The most important factor is that with Thakur at the helm, Mandi district is going to emerge as the political nerve-centre of the state and this is an opportunity for the BJP to convert this Congress bastion into its citadel.
Mandi sends 10 MLAs to the state Assembly after Kangra that sends 15 MLAs. This time the BJP won nine of the 10 seats in the district with an independent winning the remaining. Till now the chief ministers in the state have come from Sirmaur, Shimla, Kangra and Hamirpur districts.
In the past, two Congress leaders from Mandi – Karam Singh and Sukh Ram – tried their best to become CM, but their moves were scuttled by Yashwant Singh Parmar and Virbhadra Singh. This time Thakur has been successful, although from the rival party.
Some observers speculated that Thakur's rise to the top would affect the clout of the Sukh Ram family that recently joined the BJP.
With Thakur as CM, Himachal is set to witness a generational change in state politics as the era of both Virbhadra and Dhumal most likely comes to an end. He will have to deliver right from the word go to establish himself as someone equal in stature to his predecessors. He has an opportunity on his hands to redefine the politics in the state. Whether he is able to do this will be known with the passage of time.
He has the experience of being a minister in the Dhumal Cabinet in the past besides being the state unit chief of the BJP who brought it to power on its own in 2007.
Thakur is a soft-spoken man who has worked his way up through his organisational skills while keeping his profile low. He has risen through the ranks from being a leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and has the firm backing of the RSS.
He had caught the eye of the party bigwigs very early and because of this, the BJP gave him a chance to contest the 1993 Assembly polls from Chachiot constituency when he was just 28-years-old.
He lost by a slender margin but has gone on to win on five successive occasions from the constituency that later became Seraj after the delimitation.
In his capacity as the state unit chief, he consolidated the party's support base to ensure a return to power in 2007. In 1998 the BJP formed the government with the support of Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) led by Sukh Ram who had later parted ways with the BJP. The party had lost the 2003 polls.
Thakur served as rural development and panchayati raj minister in the Dhumal government from 2010 to 2012. He enjoys a good connect with his voters in Seraj where he is credited with getting 56 of 58 panchayats connected by road despite the area having an extremely difficult terrain.