Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar: India's New Influencer In Southeast Asia

The vice president has three decades of experience in international arbitration, trade and commerce.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar at University of Delhi. (Photo: Vice-President's&nbsp;Twitter handle)</p></div>
Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar at University of Delhi. (Photo: Vice-President's Twitter handle)

The resolve of the Union government to counter the growing influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region has made it look for fresh ideas and new emissaries to increase India’s influence in the Southeast Asian region. 

It has now decided to utilise past skills of Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar to steer India through the complex nature of international trade, commerce, and relation-building with countries that are in the southeast of Asia. 

While most people remember the vice president only as the former Governor of West Bengal, it seems Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to use the VP’s three-decade-long experience in international arbitration, trade and commerce to further India’s diplomatic influence in the region.  

Taking steps to strengthen the ‘Look East’ policy, India’s delegation at the three-day Asean-India Summit and the East Asia Summit in Cambodia is being led by Dhankhar.  

"India supports Asean centrality in the evolving architecture in the Indo-Pacific. India and Asean share the common vision of ensuring peace, prosperity, and stability in the region. As we look ahead, we see an uncertain geopolitical landscape that cannot be whisked away. To navigate it, we must expand our cooperation and deepen our strategic trust,” said the Vice President, in his opening remarks at the Asean-India Commemorative Summit, to celebrate 30 years of the partnership.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Hon'ble Vice President, Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar with the leaders of ASEAN member states at the 19th ASEAN-India Summit in Phnom Penh. (Source:&nbsp;Jagdeep Dhankhar Vice-President of India/Twitter) </p><p></p></div>

Hon'ble Vice President, Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar with the leaders of ASEAN member states at the 19th ASEAN-India Summit in Phnom Penh. (Source: Jagdeep Dhankhar Vice-President of India/Twitter)

The VP's selection to lead the Indian delegation indicates that PM Modi has decided to use Dhankhar's experience at the ICC International Court of Arbitration to advance India's diplomatic dialogue with like-minded countries. 

The expansive use of Dhankhar’s past skill, early in his tenure as vice president, is indicative of the ‘practicalism’ of the Modi regime. Instead of being rigid on promoting only those leaders who have ideological roots in its political fraternity, Dhankhar’s selection in 2019 as West Bengal governor marked a shift in strategy, from Keshari Nath Tripathi. 

The journey of Dhankhar from being a senior advocate at the Rajasthan High Court to national and international politics first started in 1989, when he became a Lok Sabha member from Jhunjhunu while following in the footsteps of his mentor, Devi Lal. Dhankhar was minister of state for parliamentary affairs in the coalition government.

After the fall of the union government under former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, Dhankhar resumed his legal practise at the Supreme Court and soon became a member of the Indian Council of Arbitration and later of the ICC International Court of Arbitration. 

“International trade, commerce, and arbitration are his core areas of work as a legal and constitutional expert. He has extensively travelled abroad for his work in these areas for the past three decades. Even as a school student he was always interested in issues of national and international affairs. He would often read articles in newspapers and magazines, and write about them in school. Apart from studies, these articles slowly became his point of interaction and discussions with his teachers,” said Randeep Dhankhar, brother of vice president and leader of the Congress in Rajasthan.   

The role of Dhankhar, after becoming vice president in August this year, is expanding in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government. Although Dhankhar had joined the BJP during the first NDA government under former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the present union government seems to have decided to maximise the use of his skills in Parliament and abroad.

The union government will need his advice again in the coming months, when it presents the final full budget before the 2024 general elections in February 2023. Even though the BJP is the single largest party in the Rajya Sabha with 92 members, the party would look towards like-minded parties for support during the discussion on the finance bill. The skills of Dhankhar as a former parliamentary affairs minister could guide the party in both houses of parliament. 

The decision of the BJP-NDA to choose Dhankhar as its candidate for the crucial vice presidential election can also help the party reap political dividends in states like Rajasthan, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh. Dhankhar’s influence in Rajasthan politics can help the BJP streamline its house in the state and gather support of the dominant Jat community in the state. 

The presence of Jats in Haryana is also crucial for the BJP because chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar will seek a third term in December 2024. 

“Vice president is a constitutional post and no party would directly want to benefit from it in electoral politics. But the presence of Jagdeep Dhankhar as vice president will help the BJP build a narrative in states like Rajasthan, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. It will be one of the talking points in the elections but we will have to wait and watch to ascertain the impact of Dhankhar in the elections,” said RD Gurjar, a Jaipur-based political analyst.  

Gyan Verma was Senior Editor (Politics) at the Mint. He has been a journalist for nearly two decades and writes on the politics and intersection of policy and politics.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.