Anti-RSS leader to Hindutva mentor to Rajya Sabha referee: Jagdeep Dhankhar’s road to Raisina

The evolution of a self-made lawyer who had no enemies.

WrittenBy:Shivnarayan Rajpurohit
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On January 5, 1995, an MLA from the Congress party stood up to speak at the Rajasthan assembly. He praised the new “political sentiment” in India today, which rejected the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s “extremism” after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Standing over six feet tall, his words bounced across the high-ceilinged room. 

“Honourable speaker, can a system or an organisation be democratic where there are no elections?” he said, referring to the RSS. “Is there any place for such an organisation in a parliamentary democracy?”

Seven years later, this fiery MLA and lawyer would join the legal cell of the very organisation he decried. He would provide legal advice for Hindu parties in the Ram Janmabhoomi case, guide lawyers representing BJP and RSS members in terror cases. By 2022, as a member of the BJP, he would become India’s fourteenth vice-president – rising like a phoenix after 20 years of political hibernation.

Jagdeep Dhankhar described it as his “life’s biggest feat”.

In his stint so far as vice-president of India and chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, Dhankhar has made headlines for his exploits inside and outside the House. His wisecracks are the stuff of Instagram Reels, even as he challenged judicial overstepping, denounced Rahul Gandhi, and dismissed allegations that Parliament switched off opposition mics during debates. More recently, he appointed members of his personal staff to parliamentary committees – a move swiftly condemned by opposition leaders.

But before this chapter of his life, Dhankhar was a lawyer who detested discussing cases and judges in the corridors of courts. Friends, family members and protégés describe him as witty, astute, industrious and self-made; as a stickler for rules with an eye for detail; as an Ajatashatru, the one who has no enemies; and as “J uncle” who is a fine orator. He’s a teetotaler and a reformist follower of the Arya Samaj, loves Cassata ice cream, and isn’t picky about food otherwise – he’s happy to dine on dahi with crumbled roti. He and his wife Sudesh, who holds a PhD on sustainable development and water conservation, are described as a “couple in love”.

But Dhankhar has changed, evolved ideologically, since his last direct election in 1998 when he lost the Lok Sabha poll on a Congress ticket. As a child, he once scolded his brother-in-law for doodling RSS slogans on a building in Satnali village in Haryana and asked him to “focus on his studies”. But now, he’s swapped his usual greeting of “Ram, Ram sa” with “Jai Shri Ram”.

This is the story of a child born into a family patronised by a Jaipur king; a lawyer who won the legal fight for Jat reservation in Rajasthan and defended fugitive Lalit Modi; a shrewd politician who made friends across the aisle; a governor who split hairs to annoy an elected government; and a “partisan” vice-president who repeatedly dares both the opposition and the judiciary.

Newslaundry’s requests to Dhankhar’s office for an interview went unanswered.

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