Rajasthan Polls: The mystery of vice president Dhankhar’s frequent visits

Does the vice president need the chief minister’s permission to visit, fumed union minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, while Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot prayed for the vice president to 'spare us'

Vice president of India and Rajya Sabha chairman Jagdeep Dhankar (photo: Getty Images)
Vice president of India and Rajya Sabha chairman Jagdeep Dhankar (photo: Getty Images)

Prakash Bhandari

People understand why the vice president is visiting Rajasthan so frequently ahead of the elections, said chief minister Ashok Gehlot on Wednesday, 27 September, before adding, “people will give a befitting reply”.

Gehlot claimed that Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar had already visited the state seven times in September. His helicopter is hovering all over the state, the chief minister said, adding that on that day itself, the vice president was scheduled to visit five places in the state.

‘You are welcome… We will felicitate you if you become the president, but for the moment, please spare us,” said the chief minister.

The vice president, for his part, has justified his frequent visits by pointing out that he is from the state himself. Rajasthan being his native state, he has argued, the chief minister does not have to follow protocol and receive him every time he visits.

But then nobody has explained why he is in the state to inaugurate various central government schemes, instead of a union minister.

The accusation inherent in Ashok Gehlot’s statement was that the vice president was actively campaigning for the BJP, with state assembly elections due in November.

“Dhankhar should understand that he is the vice president of the country and the state of Rajasthan is heading towards the Vidhan Sabha elections. The vice president’s post is a Constitutional position and we respect it and we would like to see that the prestige of the coveted post should remain intact… We honoured Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and held a reception in his honour at the chief minister’s official residence…,” Gehlot said.

What would have riled the chief minister is what the vice president has been stating during his public engagements. He has made no secret of his admiration for the Bharatiya Janata Party, the central government and the prime minister, lavishing fulsome praise on them at every opportunity.

On Wednesday, for example, the vice president described the 'new' women’s reservation bill as a game-changer.

Dhankhar also described “corruption as a killer of growth and democracy” and went on to declare that “power corridors have been totally neutralised of power brokers in the last 10 years”. He called on citizens to actively counter any anti-India rhetoric that tarnishes, defames and weakens its institutions.

Addressing students in Kota, Dhankhar also gave credit to the prime minister for the Chandrayaan-3 mission’s success and said Modi had stood behind scientists like a rock after the failure of Chandrayaan-2. “You are fortunate children of Bharat because the ecosystem is supporting you to fully exploit your talent, energy and potential… this was not the case earlier [italics ours]. The world is mesmerised, they are perplexed by India’s transformation.”

The vice president also referred to the Indian economy being among the “Fragile Five” during Manmohan Singh’s regime.

Nor does he conceal his distaste for the Opposition. In one speech, he said: “If somebody gets an ED, CBI or income tax notice, he protests on the street. Is this proper? Go to court, seek relief. How can we tolerate it?”

Last year, when Dhankhar was governor of West Bengal, he hosted Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat and other senior functionaries of the RSS at his farmhouse in Jhunjhunu. RSS sources in Jaipur claim that it was during the Jhunjhunu conclave that Mohan Bhagwat decided to back the candidature of Dhankhar for the office of vice president of India.

Dhankhar was elected to the Lok Sabha from Jhunjhunu in 1989 on a Janata Dal ticket and served as a junior minister in VP Singh's government. Later in 1993, Dhankhar joined the Indian National Congress and was elected to the Rajasthan assembly from Kishangarh. He later contested two Lok Sabha elections from Ajmer and Jhunjhunu on Congress tickets but lost. He joined the Nationalist Congress Party in 2001, before joining the BJP in 2003. Meanwhile, after the many setbacks, a disillusioned Dhankhar concentrated on his legal practice at the Rajasthan High Court and in the Supreme Court, until in 2019 he was made governor of West Bengal.

Now he is apparently trying to woo the Jats of Rajasthan, as he belongs to the community. The Jats were given OBC status by the Ashok Gehlot government. The Jat population in the state is about 12 per cent and OBCs are believed to constitute 56 per cent of the population.

There are 37 Jat MLAs in Rajasthan belonging to the Congress, the BJP and the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) headed by Hanuman Beniwal.

Beniwal’s party had an electoral alliance with the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections and Beniwal was the BJP–RLP alliance candidate. But the RLP broke the alliance on the issue of the farm laws, and are now bitter critics of the BJP.

This leaves the BJP ostensibly low on weapons to make inroads into this section of the electorate in the state.

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