WITH WHAT appeared a sea of humanity at Shimla’s historic Ridge maidan, Jai Ram Thakur, 52, took oath of office as the 14th chief minister of Himachal Pradesh along with 11 ministers on Wednesday morning.
Unlike his immediate predecessor Virbhadra Singh, or the chief minister before him, Prem Kumar Dhumal, Thakur did not wear the trademark Himachali cap at the ceremony. His team, a relatively younger set than the previous few administrations, has six first-time ministers.
The five others who took oath with him were part of BJP governments under Dhumal in 1998 and 2007. Governor Acharya Devvrat administered the oath of office and secrecy.
Rajeev Bindal, a five-time MLA and former minister, will be the Assembly Speaker, BJP state president Satpal Satti announced later in the day to scotch speculation on his non-inclusion in the Cabinet.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, party veteran L K Advani, Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, J P Nadda, chief ministers of BJP-ruled states such as Yogi Adityanath (UP), Manohar Lal Khattar (Haryana), Devendra Fadnavis (Maharashtra), party MPs from the state and a host of BJP leaders were present at the swearing-in-ceremony.
Among the ministers are Anil Sharma, four-time MLA and former minister in Congress governments who had deserted the party before the elections and got re-elected on a BJP ticket from Mandi, and Sarveen Chaudhary, two-time former minister and the only woman in Thakur’s Cabinet. Sharma is son of Sukh Ram, controversial former Union Telecom minister.
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Others in the Cabinet, who have been ministers earlier, are Mahender Singh, a seven-time MLA from Dharampur (Mandi district); Krishan Kapoor, four-time Dharamshala MLA; Ram Lal Markanda, three-time MLA from Lahaul-Spiti.
The first-timers in Thakur’s Cabinet are Suresh Bhardwaj, four-time Shimla MLA and former Rajya Sabha member; Vipin Singh Parmar, three-time MLA from Sulah; Virender Kanwar, four-time MLA from Kutlehar (Una); Bikram Singh (Thakur), three-time MLA from Jaswan-Pragpur (Kangra); Govind Singh Thakur, three-time Manali MLA; and Dr Rajiv Sehjal, three-time MLA from Kasauli and the party’s young Dalit face in the state.
Thakur, a mild-mannered leader with a clean image, had emerged as the BJP’s chief minister pick after the electoral defeat of Prem Kumar Dhumal, 72, a two-time chief minister who was the party’s first choice.
Thakur’s Cabinet has six ministers from Rajput community (the chief minister himself comes from the community), two Brahmins, and one tribal, Scheduled Caste and Gaddi representative each.
Gaddi leader Krishan Kapoor’s name was not in the original list handed over to the Governor on Wednesday morning and was included at the last minute following intervention of veteran BJP leaders such as Dhumal and Shanta Kumar, it is learnt. In fact, the list of ministers was reportedly not ready even until late Tuesday evening. BJP’s Himachal Pradesh in-charge Mangal Pandey is learnt to have had it delivered to the Governor only on Wednesday morning.
The chief minister’s wife, Dr Sadhna Thakur, a medical professional, said after the oath-taking ceremony, “This is a victory of the common man. Jai Ram Thakur is a humble politician and will do justice to people from all regions, and sections of Himachal Pradesh.”