Until that twilight of March 19, 2002, in Dharamsala, Anurag Thakur was considered just a mediocre elder son of Himachal BJP strongman and two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. On that windy Tuesday, the skeptical scribes and a few BJP sycophants were awaiting Dhumal — then CM — and union minister Uma Bharti for a low-key foundation stone-laying ritual of what now is one of the world’s finest cricket stadiums having in the backdrop the breathtaking snow-capped Dhauladhar mountain range. Little did anyone realise then that Anurag — the spirit behind this international cricket stadium was on the cusp of a major journey. Since that evening, it has been a dream ride for Anurag, who propelled himself to Parliament by using this cricket stadium as a launch pad to become an influential politician.
Thus, from the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) president to second-term member of Parliament (MP) and also second-term chief of the BJP’s youth wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), this has been a spectacular rise in politics in the past six years.
But, unlike his self-effacing and down-to-earth father Dhumal, success has made Anurag what his critics say “haughty and high-headed.” These traits are causing huge trouble for his spin masters in Hamirpur Lok Sabha constituency, spread across Una, Bilaspur, Mandi and Kangra districts of the hill state, to help him enter the Lok Sabha for the third time in a row. Since he was first elected to the Lower House in the May 2008 byelection by an impressive margin of around 1.75 lakh votes, his graph has gone down in the constituency.
Cricket over constituency
Preferring to deal more with cricket affairs than his constituency, Anurag has lost the much-needed public connect over the years. However, his performance within the Lok Sabha looks impressive.
His inaccessibility has emerged as the primary concern of the electorate, which sees him more involved in cricket matters — he is also the joint secretary in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) — than hitting the dusty tracks of the constituency.
Within a section of the BJP, discontent is prevailing over what they say: “He is not that supportive as he earlier was and has become short-tempered.”
“We are not against his love for cricket. But he should realise that he has a bigger responsibility. We expect him to redress our grievances,” says a youth who runs a taxi in Hamirpur.
“When you are a public representative, the burden of expectations is always high. Anurag is neither inaccessible nor arrogant. He has some other duties to perform and is often busy touring across the country,” says Sanjay Sharma, who owes a lot to the MP.
Performer or failure?
According to Anurag, he takes the responsibility of an MP very seriously. “It is evident from the fact that my attendance was more than 80%, while I raised around 600 questions in the Lok Sabha, a majority concerning my state,” he says.
The young MP claims credit for a host of issues, such as raising the ‘one rank, one pension’ demand for ex-servicemen, setting up of premier technical institutes and a central university, introduction of new trains and extension of rail links to Himachal Pradesh etc.
“I have been the lead speaker for the Opposition during the Rail Budget debate in the Lok Sabha and have had the privilege of being the only speaker, apart from LK Advani, on the issue of black money as well as the Commonwealth Games scam,” he says.
Anurag’s supporters claim that cutting across party lines, the young leader has emerged as a youth icon in the state. “It was due to his efforts in Parliament that four new trains have been started to the hill state, besides expansion of the rail network,” says Sumit Sharma of Una.
However, the Congress terms Anurag an utter failure. Veteran Congress leader Ram Lal Thakur says, “The projects he claims credit for were all sanctioned by the Congress-led UPA government, whether it is the central university or the rail network. They just know how to run a false propaganda against opponents.”
Rough road ahead
With many friends turning foes, Anurag is heading for a tough battle of the ballot, notwithstanding the political stature of his father. It may not be a cakewalk for the young leader this time, with the Virbhadra Singh government waiting to put Dhumal on the mat on his home turf. Though BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s recent rally in his constituency has given a much-needed boost to Anurag’s campaign, he faces a big challenge from those who were once close to him and his father.
In the 2009 polls, Anurag was pitted against former BJP man Narinder Thakur, son of BJP veteran Jagdev Chand Thakur. Now, Rajinder Rana, one-time protégé of Dhumal, is gearing up for a no-holds-barred clash with him.
Another challenge before Anurag is his ‘foot-in-mouth’ disease, which once left the party red-faced and the Congress fuming. His crude comment against Congress president Sonia Gandhi and equating Virbhadra’s face with that of a monkey during the 2012 assembly elections are still fresh in the memory of the Congress cadre. And the controversy surrounding HPCA affairs, which led to a face-off between him and Virbhadra Singh-led government, are likely to cause more trouble in his endeavour for a third term in the Lok Sabha.
Part 21 of 34:
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