BJP leader Jairam Thakur, who sprinted past party stalwarts in the race to the chief minister’s office in Himachal Pradesh on Sunday, will be the first leader from the politically significant region of Mandi to helm the hill state.
The 52-year-old five-time MLA from Seraj in Mandi emerged as one of the frontrunners for the top post after the defeat of BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal in the 2017 Assembly polls, the results of which were announced last week.
Dhumal, who was expected to take over as the chief minister before the defeat, was in the reckoning till Saturday night, when he opted out. A section of party legislators had backed the former chief minister.
Union minister J P Nadda was also said to have been in the running for the top office.
Thakur, a former state unit chief and rural development and panchayati raj minister in a government headed by Dhumal, is a Rajpur leader considered close to the RSS.
He was elected leader of the BJP legislature party on Sunday.
The decision was taken at a meeting of BJP MLAs. Thakur’s name was proposed by Suresh Bhardwaj and Mahender Singh and seconded by other members.
Thakur will be the first chief minister from Mandi, considered electorally significant because of the high number of seats in the region. Himachal’s Chief Ministers and political leaders mostly belong to or hailed from Shimla, Kangra and Sirmour.
Mandi has 10 Assembly seats, second only to Kangra’s 15. The BJP won nine of the 10 seats in Mandi in this election.
Seen largely as a low-profile man, Thakur is from a farming family of Mandi. He did his post-graduation from Panjab University in Chandigarh and decided to join politics when he was in his 20s.
Thakur contested on a BJP ticket in the 1993 Assembly polls. He lost, but went on to win in 1998 from the now delimited constituency of Chachiot (Seraj) and every Assembly election after that.
A soft-spoken man, Thakur’s strength is that he is seen as a leader who has managed to straddle the party’s warring factions in the state.
A lack of consensus among the newly elected MLAs had resulted in the two central observers — Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Narendra Singh Tomar — returning to Delhi from Shimla on Saturday to hold fresh consultation with the central leadership.
A two-member team of central observers, which was in the state on December 21 and 22, had taken feedback from members of the state BJP’s core committee, MPs and some MLAs.
The BJP ousted the Congress from power by winning 44 out of the 68 seats in the Assembly polls.