ENDING a six-day-long suspense, the BJP on Sunday chose five-time MLA Jai Ram Thakur as the new chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. The 52-year-old’s name was the only one considered by the BJP Legislature Party meeting.
Soon after he was elected the Legislature Party leader, Governor Acharya Devvrat appointed Thakur as Chief Minister and invited him to form the government. The swearing-in ceremony will be held on December 27, at Shimla’s Ridge Maidan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah will be attending.
Thakur, known as a “gentle leader” who has always shunned the limelight, was thrust into the frontrunner slot after the surprise loss of BJP chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal in the Assembly elections, which were otherwise swept by the party. Union Health Minister J P Nadda, who belongs to Himachal, was also believed to be in the race, while Dhumal, whose supporters were rooting for him, ruled himself out Saturday.
Thakur said improving the state’s law and order situation and women’s security would be his top priority, and regretted the brutal Gudiya rape and murder case and the controversy that had followed. He also talked about his humble background, and said, “I have lived in poverty. My parents worked as farm labourers to raise us five brothers and sisters. I still remember those days. So I will try and do justice towards everyone, and look after deserving sections.”
The meeting of the BJP Legislature Party was attended by the central observers appointed by the party to oversee the CM selection, Nirmala Sitharaman and Narinder Singh Tomar. Before the meeting, Sitharaman and Tomar held separate discussions with a BJP core group, where Thakur’s name was proposed by Dhumal and supported by Nadda and senior BJP leader Shanta Kumar.
The central observers carried a brief from Delhi on naming Thakur, with the party deciding to go with a name from among elected MLAs, and one who could be groomed as a second-line leader. “There was no other name moved after MLAs were informed about Jai Ram Thakur’s name having been cleared by the central parliamentary board and BJP president Amit Shah,” Tomar said.
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He said senior BJP MLA Suresh Bhardwaj moved the proposal to name Thakur at the meeting of the BJP Legislature Party, and was seconded by MLA Mohinder Singh. State BJP president Satpal Satti, who also lost the polls, and BJP in-charge Mangal Pandey oversaw the election of the new leader.
Himachal politics has long been dominated by old warhorses Virbhadra Singh, 83, of the Congress and Dhumal, 72. Had Dhumal not lost the polls, the BJP could have at best picked up a new face like Thakur for a ministerial berth.
It’s also the first time an MLA from Mandi district — where the BJP won nine out of 10 seats this time, in its tally of 44 — will become chief minister. There were celebrations and processions in Mandi town after Thakur was elected.
Hundreds of BJP workers were present at the venue of the meeting Sunday, along with sitting MPs like Anurag Thakur, Varinder Kashyap and Ram Swaroop Sharma.
While during their earlier visit to choose the next CM, BJP observers had witnessed slogan-shouting by the supporters of Dhumal and Thakur, Sunday’s election was a smooth affair. Once Thakur was named, there were slogans raised of Jai Shri Ram, and others praising PM Modi.
Satti, Dhumal, Nadda, Shanta Kumar, Mangal Pandey and Anurag Thakur, besides the BJP central observers, accompanied Thakur for his meeting with the Governor.
This will be the third time Himachal Pradesh will see a swearing-in at the Ridge. Earlier, Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh had been sworn in there, in 2007 and 2012 respectively.
Speaking to mediapersons, Thakur thanked Dhumal, Shanta Kumar and Nadda for helping him in his career and making him Chief Minister.
He promised that corruption would remain a top priority of his government, as it was an issue on which the BJP had fought the election. “Himachal is a dev bhoomi and no chance will be given to anyone to bring a bad name to this land. Corruption and crime will be dealt with sternly as also those indulging in activities like drug-peddling and forest-felling,” he said.
However, he said, there would be no “political vendetta”. Asked if he would review the decisions of the earlier Congress government, Thakur said, “Once I take oath, I will certainly take a call on this aspect also.”