New Delhi: It was July 2003 and a rainy day in Shimla. The entire top brass of the Congress party had descended over “Queen of the Hills” for the party’s national conclave.
Party chief Sonia Gandhi was chairing the session and top chief ministers SM Krishna, Digvijaya Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Sheila Dixit, Vilasrao Deshmukh and Amarinder Singh were in the erstwhile summer capital of the British Raj. Virbhadra Singh, who had just won his fourth term as the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, was hosting the mega event.
Less than a kilometer away from the grand venue, a young BJP MLA was stuck in his small flat facing the state Assembly building. He was not allowed to drive towards Mandi as the convoy of Sonia Gandhi, escorted by Virbhadra himself, was to pass through.
After patiently waiting for over 30 minutes, he said, “It is a democracy. Why do they still behave like kings? Something has to be done to end this culture.” This reporter was also at his house that day.
Someone from his family said, “It can happen only if you become the chief minister one day”.
The young man just smiled.
That young MLA is now 52 years old and the new chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, Jai Ram Thakur.
Like many of India’s politicians, Thakur also hails from a humble background. He was born into a farming family in Mandi district in 1965. His father was poor and it was tough for him to feed the family of three sons and two daughters. Being the last child helped Jai Ram. His father and brothers worked in the fields to get him a better education.
Thakur did not disappoint them. Known for academic excellence, he did MA from Panjab University in Chandigarh. His family wanted him to take up some job or to help out with farming, but Thakur had his heart set on something else.
Despite severe opposition from his family, Thakur contested the 1993 Assembly polls from Seraj on a BJP ticket. He was just 28 years old and had no money. After giving a good fight, he lost.
Everybody thought it was the end of his political career. But the young man had decided to stay in politics. He waited till the next election and managed to secure a BJP ticket once again in 1998. This time he won comfortably. Thakur repeated the feat four more times on the trot from the same constituency.
He, however, lost the Mandi Lok Sabha bypoll to Virbhadra Singh’s wife Prathibha Singh in 2013.
In 2008, he was made Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister in the Dhumal government. He also held the post of Himachal Pradesh BJP president between 2007 and 2009.
Considered a consensus builder in faction-ridden unit of the BJP, Thakur is said to be a favourite among local BJP workers in the Himalayan state. This time, he ensured that the BJP won 16 seats in his region.
Addressing a press conference on Saturday evening after being chosen as the legislature party leader, Thakur thanked the BJP’s central and state leadership. “I thank everyone who supported me. Himachal is Congress-mukt now.”
Thakur is married to ABVP colleague Sadhana Thakur and they have two daughters. Sadhana is a doctor and a Kannadiga who was born and brought up in Jaipur.
Speaking to News18 from Shimla, she said, “It is a great honour for us. I am extremely happy that my husband has made it to the highest post in the state. We are from a humble background and we still lead a normal life. I am sure that my husband will do well as the chief minister of HP. I thank the voters and the BJP for this.”
Apart from Thakur, Union Minister JP Nadda was also considered a front-runner for the post. The BJP ousted the Congress from power by winning 44 of the 68 seats in fray.