Minister, MLA, Governor, Vice President: Tracing Jagdeep Dhankhar’s path
During his three years of gubernatorial tenure in West Bengal, when Jagdeep Dhankhar would berate the Mamata Banerjee administration and attack it through public addresses, long official letters and the social media, he personally drafted the letters.
Harpal Rathi still remembers the day, 60 years ago, when 11-year-old Jagdeep Dhankhar had come to take admission at the Sainik School in Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh. Back then, Rathi was a teacher in the school.
“He was a kid. But even then he had himself filled up the admission form in English. His brother Kuldeep used to say that Jagdeep had brought five dictionaries with him to school. His English used to surprise the teachers. He stood first in the essay writing competition in 1965, which was published in the school magazine,” said Rathi, adding that Dhankar even scored well in Sanskrit.
That trait never left him. During his three years of gubernatorial tenure in West Bengal, when Dhankhar would berate the Mamata Banerjee administration and attack it through public addresses, long official letters and the social media, he personally drafted the letters.
“Being a lawyer, he was well aware of the legal ramifications and would choose the words and phrases in his messages and letters very carefully. He would ensure that he never crossed the ambit and was politically correct. Even though sometimes he was more strident in his criticisms against the administration than the opposition, the ruling Trinamool Congress party couldn’t drag him to court,” said a bureaucrat, declining to be named.
Born on May 18, 1951, at Kithana, a village in Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district, the septuagenarian completed his education in Rajasthan. He graduated with Physics honours from Rajasthan University. He then completed his LLB from the same university and enrolled as an advocate in the Rajasthan Bar Council. Since 1990, he practised mainly in the Supreme Court.
Dhankhar assumed charge as governor of West Bengal in July 2019. The stormy tenure, in which face-offs between Dhankhar and Banerjee became a regular affair, came to an end on July 17 after he resigned to contest the vice-presidential elections. On Saturday, Dhankhar was elected as the vice-president of India.
Even in his last tweets as governor, Dhankhar had issued a veiled threat to elected representatives and bureaucrats. “Guv exhorted elected representatives to work with honesty & assured that all past mis deeds will be thoroughly investigated and all responsible will be dealt as per law,” Djankhar had tweeted on July 14 after administering the oath of office to the chief executive of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.
Dhankhar’s political career started in 1989, when he was elected as a MP on a Janata Dal ticket from the Lok Sabha seat of Jhunjhunu. He served as a Union minister and chairman of a parliamentary committee in 1990. He was also elected to the Rajasthan legislative assembly on a Congress ticket in 1993. In 2003, he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Dhankhar has always shared an acrimonious relation with the ruling TMC and the relation nosedived in recent months with the TMC accusing the governor of being a mouthpiece of the BJP. The TMC in January had even requested President Ram Nath Kovind to remove Dhankhar from the governor’s post.
While the governor has been attacking the Mamata Banerjee administration over alleged political violence, corruption, minority appeasement and politicization of administration, the TMC recently passed a bill in the assembly removing the governor from the post of chancellor of all state-run universities. The relation turned so sour that chief minister Banerjee had also blocked him from following her on social media.
“Apparently, it seemed that he enjoyed catching the government of the wrong foot. He had even summoned the legislative assembly session at 2am. The state government had sent a letter to him requesting to summon the assembly. Instead of 2pm, it was written 2am. It was a typographical error, which the governor could have overlooked. But he accepted it and summoned the assembly at 2am. Later the chief minister had to call a cabinet meeting again and send a fresh letter,” an official said on condition of anonymity.
Ever since the TMC returned to power in May 2021 and alleged incidents of post-poll violence broke out, the governor had been lashing out at the TMC-led government over deterioration of law and order. He visited some of the areas where post-poll violence broke out and even went to Assam to meet some of the people who supposedly took refuge in the neighbouring state.
Dhankhar would often summon ministers and top officials and sought details, especially details of expenditure, from the state government on various issues and raise an alarm whenever the chief minister tried to bypass him. The governor used his powers to withhold various bills. He had even appealed to the Bengali intelligentsia to break their silence.
This had soured his relation with assembly speaker Biman Banerjee, who had complained to Kovind against the governor for allegedly interfering in governance. Dhankhar, too, hit back and criticized the speaker for allegedly stopping video coverage of his speech in the House, and even closing the assembly gates on one occasion to deny him entry.
The TMC meanwhile had said that the governor’s post should be abolished and compared him with a white elephant. In June 2021, the acrimonious relationship between Dhankhar and the state government took a turn for the worse with Banerjee alleging that Dhankhar was an accused in the 1996 Jain Hawala case and branded him as a corrupt man.
He is married to Sudesh Dhankhar, and the couple has one daughter. Dhankhar would make sure to have her by his side on important occasions and programmes in the state. Being a gourmet, he loves all kinds of cuisine, including Bengali food and sweets.
Dhankhar is known to be an avid reader of books and a sports aficionado. He has been president of the Rajasthan Olympic Association and the Rajasthan Tennis Association.
“He was the best cadet of Sanga house in the Sainik School. He was also selected for the National Defence Academy but due to eyesight couldn’t clear the medical. He was not just academically sound but also played good football and hockey,” said Rathi, while proudly revealing how even after 60 years of leaving school, Dhankhar replied to his message when Rathi sent him a congratulatory message after he was nominated as the vice-presidential candidate.