New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in Himachal Pradesh by winning 42 seats in the 68-member assembly on 18 December, but its victory, which ended the Congress party’s five-year term, carried a sting in its tail. Prem Kumar Dhumal, the party’s CM candidate, was defeated by the Congress’s Rajinder Rana in the Sujanpur constituency.
Dhumal’s candidature had been announced in the later stages of campaigning, but it was still a blow for the two-time former chief minister of the state, not to mention the party. A probable candidate was Union health minister J.P. Nadda but the man who emerged victorious on Sunday was Jai Ram Thakur, 52, minister for rural development and panchayati raj in the previous BJP government in Himachal.
Thakur ticked all the boxes, right from being a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in his college days to having served as the party’s state unit chief. In fact, the only blip on his record was his loss to Pratibha Singh, the wife of outgoing chief minister Virbhadra Singh, in the Mandi Lok Sabha bypoll in 2013.
Soft-spoken and reputed to be of a gentle demeanour, Thakur is widely seen to have worked hard to build a groundswell of support for the party before the elections. After the party’s victory, he had told ANI, “I thank all the people for voting for us (BJP). We will work for the development of the state. The party will also improve the law and order situation in Himachal Pradesh."
Thakur’s father was a farmer. He first sought a foothold in politics in 1993 but was defeated. He was given a ticket again in 1998 and since then he has not looked back. “He is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. He has worked very hard to build a bond for the people and voters recognize that," said political analyst Vikas Singh.
“Even when in the opposition he always believed in criticizing work rather than people. It is a small trait in a big game like politics but people appreciate that about him," Singh said.
Thakur’s nomination, according to Singh, is also important because this is the first time that the BJP has chosen a CM from Mandi.
“After Kangra, Mandi is one of the bigger regions of Himachal Pradesh and somewhere it has always pinched people that one of them has not occupied the CM’s chair. This candidature can also be seen as a nod towards those sentiments," feels Singh.
The BJP had made development, fight against corruption and safety for women part of its poll plank. Thakur’s job will now be to deliver on all these fronts.
In an interview to website News18.com, his wife Sadhana has said, “We are from a humble background and will lead a normal life… I thank the voters and the BJP for this."