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Himachal Assembly Election 2022: Can Jai Ram Thakur Charm Voters Again In Seraj?

The magical transformation of Seraj, from a small town to a technologically sound landscape is why BJP MLA Jai Ram Thakur was elected Chief Minister. Gearing up for a sixth-time win, this time the sitting CM hopes to woo voters with economic development in the upcoming Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur at Seraj rally
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From being one of the most backward, remote and inaccessible mountainous areas in Himachal Pradesh to evolving into a highly transformed rural assembly constituency, the story of Seraj chronicles a story of change. 

The constituency, a Congress stronghold till 1993, has become BJP CM Jai Ram Thakur’s political fortress, the fifth-time MLA whose first term as CM was from Mandi district. 

“When I joined high school, I had to walk for 9 km on a mountainous track, every morning and another 9 km back home; the return being an upward journey. The total of 18 km per day became almost a routine. Back then, there were hardly any roads, proper water supply and health infrastructure. Instead, there was acute poverty in the area, and in my family as well,” recalls Thakur, the son of a mason. 

In the last five years—Seraj has seen a miracle of its sort, never witnessed in the case of earlier Chief Ministers. Major towns like Janjeli and Thunag have developed into modern hill towns. The Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) office, for instance, has helipads. Tourism projects under ADB funding to develop lesser-known destinations under the Nai Raahein Nai Manzilein programme put Seraj on the tourism map. Another mega tourism project of Club Mahindra is coming up at Janjheli.  

Apart from the construction of modern rest houses, there’s the opening of the Jal Shakti department and PWD circle offices to major health and veterinary institutions. Internal road connectivity has been established for areas such as Gadagushaini and the famous Mata Shikari Devi shrine.  

“This magical transformation of Seraj is the sole contribution of Jai Ram Thakur, which led to his becoming the Chief Minister. That’s why most Congress leaders call him the CM of Seraj, not Himachal Pradesh or even Mandi,” claims Birbal Sharma, a veteran journalist in Mandi. 

Before Jai Ram Thakur, veteran politician Moti Ram Thakur had got elected four times from Seraj—earlier known as the Chachiot constituency. He frequently changed parties but Thakur never let others like the two-time MLA Shiv Ram Sharma, a staunch Virbhadra Singh lieutenant, dislodge him. 

With 81,843 votes, including 29.21 per cent being Dalits, this will be the first time the key constituency of Seraj will first vote for a sitting Chief Minister in the assembly polls.  

Back in 2017, Jai Ram Thakur was not projected as the chief ministerial face of the state. Yet, the constituency polled 84 per cent votes, and he won by a record 11,000 votes.   

“It is due to people’s love and affection that I have completed 25 years as Seraj MLA. We are heading for the poll with the slogan, Riwaaz badalenge, to break the rotation cycle of the five-year rule. The area will see an accelerated economic development as its infrastructure needs have already been met,” Thakur tells Outlook

Congress candidate and Thakur’s chief rival Chet Ram, admits that Seraj has witnessed mega-development in the past five years, but blames the CM for patronising only those aligned with the BJP. Some of the projects started during the Congress reign with Virbhadra Singh’s blessings have not made any progress, alleges Chet Ram. 

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There’s another reason for caution. Jai Ram Thakur received a big jolt in the 2021 bypolls. In the Mandi Lok Sabha bypoll, of which Seraj is also a part, the CM’s victory margin dropped down like other assembly segments and Pratibha Singh, widow of former CM Virbhadra Singh won the Parliamentary seat. She is now PCC president and is seen as one of the Chief Ministerial post contenders in the Congress.

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