Jai Ram Thakur's anointment as Himachal Pradesh chief minister can be attributed to the quirk of fate. He was nowhere in the leadership race in the run-up to the polls, nor he had any overt inclination to pitch for the top post.
On 18 December when the last rounds of votes were being counted it was clear that the BJP was winning the elections hands down but its chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal was losing, political circles in Himachal Pradesh was stirred by the "leak" of "secret" information that the five-time MLA from Seraj in Mandi region Jai Ram Thakur had been summoned to New Delhi by the party leadership.
Though nobody had a definite idea as to why he rushed to New Delhi, the developing circumstances—Dhumal and some other prominent leaders in BJP losing their elections—there was a buzz that luck could smile on Thakur. BJP has seen a series of surprise elevations like Yogi Adityanath, Manoharlal Khattar and Devendra Fadnavis in the last couple of years. Soon it was apparent that Thakur would join that list and was going to don the mantle of the chief minister.
Even as the party leadership took some time to name him for the top post and let the left outs vent their anger whereby the leadership could assess and if the need be undertake firefighting measures but in the end it made everyone know that its decision taken on day one was final.
The swearing-in ceremony at the historic Ridge Maidan in Shimla was a gala affair as has become the norm in all BJP-ruled states.
Now that Thakur has assumed the office of the chief minister by a luck by chance situation, it is upto him to turn the challenge before him into an opportunity for himself and his party.
A retired Himachal Pradesh government official who was present at the swearing-in ceremony was optimistic about the prospects under Thakur’s leadership. He has been there on such occasions before and the first change that he noted on Wednesday was not so much about the massive crowd that had gathered there but it was for the first time when ministers (in BJP governments) after taking oath didn’t touch the feet of the chief minister and other top party leaders. Looks like that charan sparsh (touching feet) has gone for the good, he said. One reason for that could be the relatively young age of the chief minister. At 52, Thakur is either younger to some of his ministerial colleagues, contemporary to some others or is slightly older to the remaining ones. But then the newly sworn-in ministers didn’t touch the feet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah or party veteran LK Advani.
After assuming office Thakur said he would see that "VIP culture" ends in the state and that "tired and retired" persons wouldn’t get post-retirement extensions and re-appointment in the state government.
It appears as though by making Thakur the chief minister, Modi-Shah duo have signalled a change of an era in the hill state. It is not just about the age of the new chief minister but also about the overall choice in the government formation. Of the 11 ministers sworn-in on Wednesday, seven have never held any ministerial post in the past. Dhumal and Union Health Minister JP Nadda may have been consulted but as local BJP leaders point out the duo certainly can’t claim that they had their say in government formation. Modi and Shah don’t want any confusion in the party ranks as to who is now in control in Shimla.
Modi and Shah are seeking to prepare a long-term leadership in Himachal Pradesh. Thakur, whose initial grooming has been in the ABVP and RSS, is sure to see that it happens that way.
Dhumal’s loss in these elections could prove to be a blessing in disguise for the party. Dhumal is 73 and in the next two years, he would be 75 years old. If he had won and become the chief minister in the next two years, he would have attained the retirement age, as per party’s unwritten code and that would have led to a war of succession among the aspirants.
Himachal Pradesh BJP had so far been dominated by Shanta Kumar and the Dhumal faction. Nadda was the third pole. Kumar is 83 and though he still has his pockets of influence, he has almost retired from active politics. Circumstances have forced Dhumal into retirement. That leaves Nadda and Anurag Thakur in the reckoning but for now, they have to focus on national politics.
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Updated Date: Dec 28, 2017 06:54:51 IST