On July 30, 2019 when Jagdeep Dhankhar took oath as the Governor of West Bengal, not many in the political and social circles were familiar with his name. The last public office Mr. Dhankhar held was in 1998 as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Rajasthan, more than two decades before assuming the office of a Governor. Cut to 2022: the 71-year-old politician has been nominated as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). What has led to his fame perhaps is his eventful but rather controversial term as the Governor of West Bengal.
Centre-State relations, particularly the role of the Governor, has been a subject of much debate in West Bengal, a State that has been ruled by Opposition parties for the past five decades. Even in the past, Governors of the State and elected governments of West Bengal have had differences, but the situation took a distinctly different turn with Mr. Dhankhar in office. His three-year term was mired in regular public spats with the Trinamool Congress government. From trivial issues like seating arrangements at government events to withholding assent to Bills, a war of words between Raj Bhawan and the State Secretariat was a regular affair.
Mr. Dhankhar minced no words while targeting the Trinamool government on sensitive issues such as law and order and post-poll violence. While these developments kept him consistently in the national headlines, it also appeared that he was playing a partisan role in State politics, in tandem with the BJP’s demands. Things reached such an extent that the State government passed a Bill replacing the Governor with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as Chancellor of State-run Universities.
During his five decades of public life, Mr. Dhankhar had associated with different political parties — the Janata Party, the Congress and the BJP before assuming the charge of Governor of West Bengal. Born on May 18, 1951 in Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district in a family engaged in agriculture, he studied in a village school and later at Sainik School in Chittorgarh, on a scholarship. He obtained degrees in physics and law from Rajasthan University, and started legal practice before foraying into politics in 1989. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Jhunjhunu that same year. In the government headed by Chandrasekhar, he became the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in 1990. After 1998, he dedicated himself to legal practice. He joined the BJP in 2008. Since then, Mr. Dhankhar has also been a loyal soldier of the BJP.
A mix of legislative, legal and administrative experience has worked in favour of Mr. Dhankhar’s nomination. The BJP leadership emphasised his humble beginnings and described their Vice-President nominee as a ‘Kisan Putra’ (son of a farmer). Soon after his nomination, Mr. Dhankhar was also quick to stress on his humble beginnings and said he walked kilometres to his school in the village and completed higher studies with the support of a scholarship. Besides his farming credentials, the fact that Mr. Dhankhar hails from the Jat community also made him the right pick. It was the resistance of the farmers and leaders from the Jat community that forced the Centre to withdraw the three farm laws in 2021. If elected Vice-President, he will be the second leader from Rajasthan after Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, to hold the high office.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while congratulating Mr. Dhankhar, stressed that he has excellent knowledge of the Constitution and is “well versed in legislative affairs”. During his tenure as Governor, Mr. Dhankhar had repeated almost every occasion that he did not want to fiddle around in Raj Bhawan and his allegiance was only to the Constitution. He has fancied calling himself the first Governor of West Bengal born in independent India. With numbers stacked in his favour, Mr. Dhankhar is likely to assume the responsibility of Vice-President at the time when the country is celebrating 75 years of the independence. As Vice-President, he will also serve as chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. He will require something more than his legal skills to win the faith of the Opposition and strike the right balance in running the Upper House of Parliament which looks after the welfare of States.