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The Accidental CM: Meet Jai Ram Thakur, new Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh

NEW DELHI: As the trends for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections came in on December 18, it was clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was headed for a comfortable win.

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When the results for all the seats were declared, the BJP had won 44 out of the 68 seats, ousting the Congress from power.

But as the fate would have it, BJP’s CM candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal lost his seat from Sujanpur constituency to Congress’ Rajinder Rana. The next in line, BJP state president Satpal Singh Satti also lost from Una constituency.

Then started the BJP’s search for a new face. Many contenders emerged and finally the saffron party chose soft spoken Jai Ram Thakur as the next CM of the hilly state.

Ending days of suspense, BJP announced on Sunday that the five-time MLA will be the new Chief Minister of the state.

The 52-year-old leader won the Assembly election from Seraj. Apart from securing his own win with huge margin, Thakur is also said to be instrumental in BJP sweeping 9 out of 10 seats from Mandi region, losing one to an independent candidate.

Thakur comes from a humble background and was born in a farming family in Tandi village of Mandi district in 1965. The youngest of five children, Jai Ram was a bright student but had to drop out for two years after matriculation in 1980 due to poor financial condition of the family.

He, however, went on to complete his MA from Panjab University in Chandigarh. He joined the RSS’ student wing ABVP right after graduation, thus making his entry into student politics.

At the time when L K Advani took out his Ram Rath Yatra, Jai Ram also became active in the Ram Mandir movement. He is, however, not known for aggressive politics and is considered BJP’s ‘gentle face’ for his soft-spoken and non-aggressive brand of politics.

Thakur contested his first election at the age of 28 on a BJP ticket in 1993. He lost his first election but again secured the BJP ticket in 1998 from Seraj, which was then known as Chachiot Vidhan Sabha. This time he won comfortably and defeated Congress veteran Moti Ram Thakur by 6,000 votes, thus marking his entry to the Assembly.

There has been no looking back for him since then. He won consecutive elections from Chachiot in 2003 and 2007, before the constituency became Seraj after delimitation.

Thakur was made Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister by then Chief Minister Dhumal in 2008. He was also the BJP’s state president between 2007 and 2009. In 2012, he won from Seraj while the BJP lost power to the Congress. In the latest election, Thakur won from Seraj by a margin of over 11,000 votes. He is married to Sadhana Thakur, a Kannadiga who was born and brought up in Jaipur, and have two children with her.

Soft-spoken Thakur is considered a consensus builder in the Himachal Pradesh BJP. Even as his supporters raised slogans in his favour against Dhumal during BJP’s Central Observers’ visit to the state, he chose to remain silent. Today, it was Dhumal who proposed his name during the BJP legislature party meeting. Two other senior leaders from the party, Shanta Kumar and JP Nadda also supported the proposal, Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, the BJP’s Central Observer, said.

After the announcement of his name, Thakur thanked everyone, signalling that he would take all leaders of faction-ridden Himachal BJP along in his journey. Himachal is famous for throwing out incumbent government’s after a single term in office. Can Thakur break that trend? That will be his biggest challenge.