Prem Kumar Dhumal, who on Sunday took oath as the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh for the second time, has demonstrated that he has come out of the shadow of his mentor and veteran party leader Shanta Kumar.
Popularly known as sadak wala mukhya mantri for a number of road projects he took up in Himachal during his previous tenure, Dhumal became the chief minister for the first time in 1998.
A law graduate and former English professor in Punjab University, the 63-year-old Dhumal belongs to Samirpur village of Hamirpur district. When the BJP lost power in 2003, Dhumal became the leader of the legislature party in the Assembly.
This time he was locked in a contest with his schoolmate Colonel B C Lagwal from the Bamson assembly seat, and he scored a hattrick.
Party sources say that when Narendra Modi was the party in-charge of Himachal Pradesh from 1997 to 2001, he did not enjoy the best of relations with Shanta Kumar, a factor which helped Dhumal rise in state politics.
Kumar had further distanced himself from Modi after his attack on the Gujarat chief minister at a party forum post-2004 parliamentary defeat of the BJP.
This year in July, when the party decided to field Dhumal as a candidate for the parliamentary by-election from Hamirpur, he hesitantly accepted it as his heart always remained in state politics.
He won the Lok Sabha seat, election for which was necessitated by the expulsion of Suresh Chandel in the cash-for-query scam.
His rivals and a section of people within the saffron brigade thought it was the end of road for Dhumal in state politics. But just then he bounced back; the party declared him as the chief minister nominee, thus he pipped his one-time mentor Shanta Kumar to the post.
Known for his oratorical skills, Dhumal's campaign in the assembly elections was aggressive. When rival Congress leaders launched a barrage of allegations of corruption against him during his previous tenure as chief minister, Dhumal filed a defamation suit against Congress stalwarts Motilal Vohra, former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma.
The case is pending in the Shimla District Court.
Son of an ex-serviceman, Dhumal also strongly believes in astrology. Number 9 is the Chief Minister's favourite. The number finds place on his cell phone as well as on his car's number plate.