Early Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to congratulate Aanchal Thakur from Himachal Pradesh for winning India’s first medal at an international skiing event. At the 21-year-old’s home in Manali, Aanchal’s father Roshan Lal Thakur was left wondering if the Prime Minister knew who she really was.
In November, while campaigning in Manali for the Himachal elections, Modi spoke in public about how he became a fan of paragliding when he visited Solang two decades ago — and how “a Thakur” was his first instructor.
“Probably, he doesn’t know that he had tweeted the name of the girl whose father’s name he mentioned in Manali two months ago. I was among the crowd but did not get an opportunity to meet him,” says Thakur.
On Tuesday, Thakur’s daughter bagged bronze at the Alpine Ejder 3200 Cup in Turkey, a tournament recognised by the International Skiing Federation.
Modi tweeted: “Well done @alleaanchal for winning an international medal in skiing! The entire nation is ecstatic on your historic accomplishment at the FIS International Skiing Competition in Turkey. Wishing you the very best for your future endeavours.”
According to Thakur, Modi tried his hand at paragliding in an institute run by Thakur in 1997, during a political tour to Solang. In the late 90s, Modi was BJP’s in-charge of Himachal.
“A local leader brought Modiji to show him the paragliding facility. The ground was slushy because it had been raining. He wanted to give it a try but I said he couldn’t because you need a firm ground for the run-up. But he was adamant. He tried it and he was hooked,” says Thakur.
Aanchal has never met Modi, but has heard about her father’s connection. “I never imagined that the Prime Minister would tweet about me. I can’t believe it. I hope this brings more recognition to Winter Olympics. I owe my success to my father,” she says.
Being a paragliding instructor was actually Thakur’s summer job. In the winters, the 1989 national skiing champion used to take to the snow-capped slopes of Manali. His son Himanshu represented India at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“After our first meeting, Modiji used to come practically every month, and he’d bring lots of people along… On one visit, he travelled with a security team and on reaching the academy, encouraged his bodyguards to have a go at paragliding,” says Thakur.
Thakur says he was in touch with Modi for a while after he became the chief minister of Gujarat. In 2012, he says, Modi called to ask him to visit Gujarat’s Saputara, where an adventure sports institute was being set up.