Friday, Oct 07, 2022

Meet Jagdeep Dhankhar, 14th Vice President Of India, Who Sparred With Mamata Banerjee And Switched Between Congress And BJP

Jagdeep Dhankhar is a Jat leader from Rajasthan with a farming background. The BJP is placating both Jats and farmers and Rajasthan goes to polls next year.

Jagdeep Dhankhar PTI FIle Photo

Jagdeep Dhankhar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate, was elected as the 14th Vice President of India on Saturday, comfortably defeating his rival Margaret Alva, the veteran Congress leader.

Dhankhar polled 528 votes whereas Alva got 182 votes. Alva was propped by 17 Opposition parties, including the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Samajwadi Party, and the Left Parties. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) had not supported Alva and had announced abstinence from voting on grounds that her backers had not consulted it while finalising her name.

Dhankhar was the Governor of West Bengal when his name was announced on July 16. BJP chief JP Nadda had made the announcement and had hailed Dhankhar as "kisan putra" [farmer's son] at the time. Dhankhar resigned as the governor shortly after and filed his nomination.

As Governor of West Bengal, Dhankhar had a very active tenure where he and Mamata Banerjee-led government frequently sparred on several issues ranging from post-election violence in the state to alleged interference by Dhankhar in the state's affairs and sitting on government bills. 

Jagdeep Dhankhar's life, education

Jagdeep Dhankhar was born on 18 May 1951 in the remote village of Kithana in Rajasthan's Jhunjhunu district.

Dhankhar was born into an agrarian household and this explains why BJP has projected him as the farmer's son, a socioeconomic group whose ire the party and the Union government has been facing ever since it brought in now-withdrawn farm laws. 

Dhankhar did his primary schooling in his village Kithana. He later joined the Sainik School at Chittorgarh on a full scholarship. After graduating from there, he joined the Maharaja’s College, Jaipur in the B.Sc (Honours) Physics course, according to his biography on West Bengal Raj Bhavan.

It adds that Dhankhar then went on to do LLB at the University of Rajasthan. He graduated in 1978-79 and was enrolled as an advocate in the bar in the same year.

Jagdeep Dhankhar's political career

Jagdeep Dhankhar forayed into politics in 1989 with Janata Dal and was elected to the Lok Sabha from Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan that same year and became a Union minister in 1990.

Dhankhar was also a member of the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha during 1993-98 representing Kishangarh constituency.

Dhankhar was involved along with other leaders in the grant of Other Backward Classes (OBC) to the Jat community in Rajasthan. 

Like most Jat politicians from his time, Dhankhar was originally associated with Devi Lal and he followed his mentor when the latter walked out of the VP Singh government and became a union minister in 1990.

Dhankhar joined the Congress when PV Narsimha Rao became the prime minister and Devi Lal was no more than effective. But with the rise of Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan politics, he switched to the BJP and is said to have become close to Vasundhara Raje soon after.

Jagdeep Dhankhar's legal career

Besides being the "kisan putra" [farmer's son], Jagdeep Dhankhar was hailed by Nadda as a "first generation professional" when his name was announceed. 

Dhankhar was enrolled as an advocate in Rajasthan in 1979. He was designated as Senior Advocate by the High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan on March 27, 1990, and he was the senior-most designated Senior Advocate of Rajasthan till his appointment as Governor on 2019, according to the Raj Bhawan. 

Dhankhar practised primarily in the Supreme Court and his focus area of litigation has been steel, coal, mine and international commercial arbitration, amongst others, according to Raj Bhawan. He has appeared in various High Courts in the country.

Dhankhar was the youngest person to be elected as the President of the Rajasthan High Court Bar Association at the age of 36 in the 1987. He was also elected a Member of the Rajasthan Bar Council in 1988.

Dhankhar also had a three-year stint as a member of the International Court of Arbitration in Paris.

Jagdeep Dhankhar was Mamata Banerjee's bete noire as Governor

Despite his long public life, Jagdeep Dhankhar is presently most well-known for run-ins with Mamata Banerjee and her West Bengal government. 

As Governor of West Bengal, Dhankhar was at times more vocal and sharper than the Opposition BJP in the state, noted NDTV in an article.

The Wire noted that Dhankhar targeted Mamata's government and TMC on alleged corruption, politicisation of the administration and academic institutions, and an alleged undemocratic attitude. Meanwhile, Mamata had called him BJP's stooge and the "real Leader of Opposition". Mamata has also formally comaplained about Dhankar's conduct.

India Today reported, "The primary reasons of complaint stated in the letters were the difficulties of governance faced by the state government created by the Governor in the procedures of file movements, clearance of files, calling the chief secretary and other state level senior officials on nominal issues and thereby challenging the authority of the CM on various matters."

The Wire also noted that Dhankhar refused to be a "rubber stamp" governor. It reported that Dhankhar wanted to actively participate in the decision-making of institutions where Governor served as the titular head, including state-run universities. 

Political significance of Jagdeep Dhankhar

Jagdeep Dhankhar's background as a Jat leader from Rajasthan and belonging to a farming family are key to BJP's decision to make him the Vice President.

The BJP and the Union government have faced ire from both the Jats and farmers in recent past. A large chunk of lanholding farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan is from the Jat community and it had participated actively in the year-long anti-government protests over the now-withdrawn farm laws. The hailing of Dhankhar as a farmer's son, in light of his background as an Jats' OBC movement leader, could be seen in his context.

Dhankhar's 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. Rajasthan also goes to polls next year.

NDTV noted, "The selection of the Rajasthan leader is also seen as likely to help the BJP in the next year's election in the Congress-ruled state. Dhankhar belongs to the politically powerful Jat community, which forms a chunk of the population in Rajasthan and is currently at odds with the BJP."

There has also been some speculation that the TMC also sees Dhankhar's electiona as Vice President a victory as it means that they don't have to deal with a combative and assertive Governor anymore. Such speculation is supported by some recent developments, such as TMC not supporting Dhankhar's rival Alva and her meetings with BJP's strongman in the Northeast Himanta Biswa Sarma and Dhankhar around the time his name was announced. 

"But the move [to not support Margaret Alva], coming after a meeting between Mamata Banerjee and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP's pointsperson in the northeast, where Mr Dhankhar was also present, left room for speculation. The Trinamool's decision, however, will undoubtedly aid Mr Dhankhar during the Vice-Presidential elections on Saturday," noted Akhilesh Sharma in an article published before the Vice Presidential election.

(With PTI inputs)