Jagdeep Dhankhar: From reluctant politician to VP of India

In this Dec 3, 2019 file photo, former West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar at a rally in Kolkata. PHOTO: PTI

New Delhi: Once a "reluctant politician", Jagdeep Dhankhar's reemergence in the political scene in 2019 as West Bengal governor surprised many, and so has his rise to the office of the Vice President of India.

Dhankhar, 71, was declared elected as the Vice President on Saturday after he bagged 528 votes against his rival candidate Margaret Alva's 182.

A man of many interests, his long legal career at the Rajasthan High Court and the Supreme Court and a brief stint as the junior parliamentary affairs minister at the Centre will come in handy as he presides over the Rajya Sabha as its Chairman.

Dhankhar, who had been associated with the Janata Dal and the Congress, joined the BJP only in 2008 after a hiatus of nearly a decade.

He has championed issues related to Other Backward Classes, including the grant of OBC status to the Jat community in Rajasthan.

While his surprise appointment as the West Bengal governor in 2019 brought him back to the political limelight, he did not shy away from the hurly-burly of politics and was caught in frequent run-ins with the state's ruling Trinamool Congress.

'Kisan Putra'

The BJP described Dhankhar as "Kisan Putra" while announcing his candidature for the vice presidential election, a move seen in the political circles aimed at reaching out to the politically significant Jat community which had participated in huge numbers in the year-long farmers' protests on the borders of the national capital against agriculture reform measures unveiled in June 2020.

Prior to his appointment as the West Bengal Governor in 2019, Dhankar was an unfamiliar name in political circles, particularly as the last public office he held was as the Member of the Rajasthan Assembly from 1993-98 from the Congress party.

Dhankhar, who took to cricket in his school days and also had a keen interest in spirituality and meditation, began his political journey with the Janata Dal and won the Lok Sabha elections in 1989, held under the shadow of the Bofors scandal, from Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan. He had a brief stint as Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs under Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar.

Last month, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP, held its three-day annual meeting in Jhunjhunu.

In his initial journey as a politician, Dhankhar was influenced by Devi Lal and later shifted to the Congress during the tenure of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao.

'First-generation lawyer'

After hanging his boots as an MLA, Dhankhar focused on his legal career, practising as a lawyer in the Supreme Court. He also had a three-year stint as a member of the International Court of Arbitration in Paris.

BJP president J P Nadda described Dhankhar as a first-generation lawyer fully equipped in an administrative capacity. Dhankhar is also known to have warm ties with leaders across party lines, a quality that would come in handy as he presides over the Rajya Sabha.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said Dhankhar had excellent knowledge of the Constitution and was well-versed with legislative affairs.

"I am sure that he will be an outstanding Chair in the Rajya Sabha & guide the proceedings of the House with the aim of furthering national progress, the prime minister said on July 16.

His election as Vice President will also mean that the presiding officers of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will be from Rajasthan, among the only two states currently ruled by Congress governments, which incidentally goes to polls next year.

Nadda said Dhankhar's life story reflects the spirit of new India -- that is overcoming innumerable social and economic hurdles and achieving one's goals.

Dhankhar was born on May 18, 1951, in Kithana village in Jhunjhunu district, Rajasthan. He did his primary schooling in his village Kithana and later joined the Sainik School, Chittorgarh, on a full scholarship.

After graduating from Sainik School, he joined the Maharaja's College, Jaipur in the BSc (Honours) Physics course, according to his biography on the West Bengal Raj Bhavan website.

He is also known to be an avid reader and a sports aficionado and has been the President of the Rajasthan Olympic Association, and Rajasthan Tennis Association.

He married Sudesh and they have a daughter.

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