VP Jagdeep Dhankhar will be a textbook Rajya Sabha chairman

His Jat roots and Rajasthan connection will help BJP in poll campaigns

PTI08_06_2022_000428A Jagdeep Dhankhar | PTI

JAGDEEP DHANKHAR is a quick learner. Within months of joining the Sainik School in Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh as a class five student, he became proficient in English. “During the summer vacations when he was home, he was called to speak before visiting government officials to display his skills. For the villagers, he was always the boy who spoke English well,” recalled Randeep Dhankhar, Congress leader and the new vice president’s younger brother.

While he himself will be apolitical, dhankhar’s Jat roots and Rajasthan connection will help the BJP when it campaigns in areas where the community is strong.

At Sainik School, he was also the best cadet of Sanga House—named after Maharana Sangram Singh—and was selected to the National Defence Academy. “They (cadets) are highly motivated by the deeds of this brave ruler and they are also determined to win every battle of their life and are ready to face any challenges to realise their cherished goal in life,” reads the school description.

But Dhankhar had other battles in mind. He did not join the NDA. “He wanted to study more,” said Randeep. The young Dhankhar’s career graph was nomadic—he went on to study Physics for graduation and pursued a law degree from Rajasthan University. He found his calling in the latter. He had a thriving practice, and people would “wait in queues” to hire him as a lawyer, said Randeep. He was later elected Rajasthan High Court Bar Association president.

Randeep said his brother is fond of children and loves talking to them. Dhankhar, 71, has a daughter who is married to a Supreme Court lawyer; he had his son when he was 14. Both brothers had gotten married on the same day, though in different locations.

In his mid-30s, Dhankhar had a thriving practice in Jaipur when the country’s politics was on the boil. The Bofors scandal, the Sri Lankan civil war and militancy in Punjab were troubling the Rajiv Gandhi government. Then Defence Minister V.P. Singh had quit the government to float the Janata Dal. Jat strongman Devi Lal was scouting for leaders, and Dhankhar’s name was suggested to him. Dhankhar took a large number of supporters to Delhi to participate in Devi Lal’s birthday rally in 1989.

The same year, Devi Lal asked Dhankhar to contest from the Jhunjhunu Lok Sabha seat. He won. However, as Devi Lal (then deputy prime minister) fell out with prime minister V.P. Singh, Dhankhar followed his mentor. He became minister of state for parliamentary affairs in the Chandra Shekhar government.

After losing in the next general elections, he joined the Congress and became an MLA in Rajasthan. His political career plateaued in the party, and he resumed his practice—he became a lawyer in the Supreme Court and moved to Delhi.

In 2003, he joined the BJP. As a lawyer, he came close to senior BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders. But, it was only when Narendra Modi came to power that the utility of Jat leaders as formidable administrators was recognised. In 2017, the BJP had picked Satya Pal Malik—another Jat leader—as Bihar governor when Nitish Kumar ran the state government with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. He was later made governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Dhankhar, too, had a tough assignment—as West Bengal governor, he had to take on an aggressive Mamata Banerjee.

Now, Dhankhar becomes Rajya Sabha chairman when the country’s polity is deeply polarised. His role will be visible during the winter session of Parliament, which is set to be historic. It will take place in the new Parliament building, and Dhankhar will preside over the first sitting of the House there. The BJP has just lost an ally in the Janata Dal (United), and the political redrawing of battle-lines will be reflected in the manner the opposition takes on the government.

Dhankhar would have a tough task managing the opposition’s demands, but his deep knowledge of the Constitution will come in handy. He will be a textbook Rajya Sabha chairman who would wave the rulebook at the opposition, just like he did to Banerjee as governor.

“We have high hopes from him,” said Congress Rajya Sabha member Shaktisinh Gohil. “We hope that he will listen to our legitimate demands and allow us to raise issues.”

Running the House when the numbers are not with the ruling party needs a deft hand. Former Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari had, in 2011, adjourned the House sine die citing disruptions before voting on the Lokpal Bill could take place. The following year, he asked the privileges committee to study the series of wrong replies given by various ministers in the Upper House, much to the UPA government’s embarrassment.

Outgoing Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu, too, left his mark on the office. A proactive presiding officer, he wrote and spoke extensively on the government’s policies. “Venkaiah ji is probably the first chairman to have cared so much about the functioning of parliamentary committees,” Modi said during his farewell. Under Naidu, the productivity of the Rajya Sabha increased by 70 per cent.

Dhankhar’s tenure will end in 2027, three years into the next government’s term. While he himself will be apolitical, his Jat roots and Rajasthan connection will help the BJP when it campaigns in areas where the community is strong. The party has already marketed his farming background, calling him ‘Kisan Putra’. Also, with him not having a Sangh background, the BJP is sending a message to potential allies and leaders—ahead of the 2024 elections—that they could be rewarded even if they make a lateral entry into the party. This was on display when Eknath Shinde was made Maharashtra chief minister.

“Our father was a farmer,” said Randeep. “I joined politics before him (Dhankhar). I was chairman of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation in the last Ashok Gehlot government.”

The brothers may be on opposite sides in terms of ideology, but that does not prevent them from having a cordial relationship. The opposition would hope for the same.