Jagdeep Dhankhar, 71, was on Saturday elected the 16th Vice-President of India, registering a comfortable victory against Opposition candidate Margaret Alva. Dhankhar, the NDA-backed candidate, secured 528 votes against 182 votes for Alva. Dhankhar will assume charge on August 11, a day after M Venkaiah Naidu retires from the position.
Dhankhar’s victory in the polls was already a given since the NDA enjoys a brute majority in the combined strength of Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The Presidential elections held last month, where NDA nominee Droupadi Murmu marched ahead of Opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha, was another clear indication which way the Vice-Presidential election was headed.
Dhankhar, however, is not a name new to public discourse. His tenure as the Governor of West Bengal was marred by several run-ins with the Mamata Banerjee government on a host of issues. Dhankhar assumed charge as the Bengal Governor in July 2019 and resigned two years later a day ahead of filing his nomination for the Vice-Presidential elections.
An advocate by profession, Dhankar has practiced in the Rajasthan High Court as well as the Supreme Court before changing tack to rejoin active politics. Given his frequent clashes with Mamata, a fierce voice of the Opposition, and the latter’s allegations of acting at the behest of the ruling party at the Centre, it is interesting to note that Dhankhar began his political career on a Janata Dal ticket.
In 1989, Dhankhar marked his debut as a Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha from Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. It was an aggressive campaign by the then Haryana CM Chaudhary Devi Lal that helped Dhankhar secure the ticket from the Jhunjhunu Lok Sabha constituency. Speaking to The Indian Express, Ranjit Singh Chautala, Devi Lal’s son and a minister in Haryana’s Manohar Lal Khattar-led government, says Dhankhar is like a family member to them and joined politics after being influenced by Devi Lal.
“In 1987, Chaudhary Devi Lal had called for a rally of the Opposition at Boat Club in Delhi. Dhankhar brought as many as 500 vehicles full of people from Jhunjhunu to participate in the rally. Devi Lal patted him on the back. Devi Lal called him from his home and offered a ticket of Janata Dal to contest from Jhunjhunu Lok Sabha constituency in 1989,” Ranjit Chautala said.
Dhankhar went on to win the election and was appointed Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in the VP Singh-led government when Devi Lal became Deputy Prime Minister. After VP Singh dismissed Devi Lal in 1990 over differences, Dhankhar was the sole minister who resigned from the Union Cabinet to express solidarity with Devi Lal.
When Devi Lal became Deputy PM in the minority government led by Chandrashekhar, Dhankhar was again given an opportunity as a minister in his government which barely lasted around six months.
Dhankhar’s next election was in Rajasthan in 1993, this time on a Congress ticket, which he won and went on to serve as the MLA from Kishangarh till 1998. Dhankhar then took a break from active politics and practiced as a Supreme Court lawyer till July 2019 when he was appointed Governor of West Bengal.
After he joined the BJP, Dhankhar, a Jat leader, became the national convener of the saffron party’s law and legal affairs department in 2016. BJP sources said he had in the past “extended solid support both politically and through legal advice and assistance” to the BJP, RSS and its affiliates.
Born in 1951 into a farmer family in Jhunjhunu’s Kithana village, Dhankhar studied at a local government school before moving on to Sainik school in Chittorgarh. He is married to Sudesh Dhankhar and they have a daughter, Kamna. A graduate from the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, Dhankhar completed his LLB degree in 1978-79 and is also a former president of the Rajasthan High Court Bar Association.
A Jat leader, Dhankhar became the national convener of the BJP’s legal cell in 2016 shortly after formally joining the saffron party.