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A five-time MLA from Seraj constituency, Thakur was chosen to be the chief minister after BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal lost in the polls

Jai Ram Thakur, the five-term BJP MLA from Seraj constituency in Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi district, was on Wednesday morning sworn-in as chief minister of the hill state. Thakur, a dark horse, was handpicked for the role by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah after the saffron party’s chief ministerial candidate, Prem Kumar Dhumal, lost the recently concluded Himachal Pradesh assembly polls.

The swearing-in ceremony of Thakur and his 10-member council of ministers comes a day after the BJP formed its government – for a sixth consecutive term – in Gujarat with Vijay Rupani returning as the chief minister of the Prime Minister’s home state.

As was the case with the swearing-in event of Rupani and his ministers on Tuesday, Thakur’s oath-taking ceremony at the historic Ridge Maidan of Shimla was also attended by the entire BJP top brass – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, a host of union ministers and chief ministers of most NDA-ruled states.

The BJP had swept the recent Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls, winning 44 of the state’s 68 seats and ousting the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government which was reduced to 22 MLAs from its earlier tally of 36. 

The look of Thakur’s council of ministers – Virender Kanwar, Vikram Singh, Anil Sharma, Sarveen Choudhary, Ram Lal Markanday, Mahendra Singh, Kishan Kapoor Suresh Bhardwaj, Govind Singh Thakur and Vipin Singh Parmar – shows that, in a state where the dominant vote-banks are of the Brahmins and Rajputs, the BJP was clearly out to woo the latter. This could be because the saffron party hopes to make significant and long-lasting in-roads in a community that largely endorsed the Congress party in successive elections due to the leadership of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh.

The 83-year-old Virbhadra Singh, erstwhile Raja of Rampur-Bushahr, is undoubtedly the tallest leader of Himachal Pradesh, A six-time chief minister, though Virbhadra led his party to defeat in the recently concluded polls – reducing the Congress’ tally from 36 seats in 2012 to 22 seats in 2017 – he himself registered a convincing victory from Arki, a new constituency for him whicgh was represented by a BJP MLA in the last Assembly. Singh had vacated his traditional Shimla (Rural) seat in favour of his son, Vikramaditya, who also won in his electoral debut.

The BJP’s decision to project Dhumal – a Thakur – as its chief ministerial candidate was also, in a way, aimed at weaning the Rajput vote in Himachal away from the Congress. The Brahmins in the hill state have traditionally been BJP voters. However, after Dhumal’s defeat it was unclear if the BJP would continue its efforts to woo the Rajput community – a doubt that quickly faded away after the BJP high command summoned Jai Ram Thakur to Delhi soon after the poll result.

Like in Gujarat, the council of ministers in Himachal too has only one woman member – Sarveen Chaudhary – wife of a retired army officer and legislator from the Shahpur constituency in the state’s politically crucial Kangra district. In Himachal politics, the Kangra district is often seen as a the kingmaker during polls and the BJP clearly wants to retain its hold over this area which it managed to sweep in the recent polls.

Thakur has said that his council of ministers is “a mix of youth and experience”. His nomination as the chief minister also marks a generational shift in the political landscape of Himachal Pradesh, a state known to have a penchant for its aged leaders. Both 83-year-old Virbhadra and 73-year-old Dhumal are veteran warhorses while Thakur in stark contrast is only 52-years old.

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