The announcement by BJP President Amit Shah of Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, 71, as the NDA’s presidential candidate, indicates that the party is trying to address a major concern in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The low profile Kovind, from the Koli community of Dalits in Kanpur Dehat district (UP), has been a practising advocate in Delhi. In 1998, when Kushabhau Thakre was the BJP president he appointed Kovind the chief of its Scheduled Caste wing. Kovind has fought one Lok Sabha election unsuccessfully from Ghatampur (SC) constituency (the seat no longer exists) and one assembly elections from Bhoginipur (SC) in 2007. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha twice, in 1994 and in 2000. When Amit Shah became the BJP President he made him general secretary of the party before he was appointed Bihar governor by August 2015, months before the assembly elections. While practicing as an advocate in Delhi, Kovind was active in the BJP and closely associated with former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh who is presently Governor of Rajasthan. It was Kalyan Singh who had decided to send him to the Rajya Sabha in 1994. He has worked with former prime minister Morarji Bhai Desai as his OSD.
Kovind has always been a low-profile leader. He was not even among the names doing the rounds for the presidency. BJP and RSS leaders in Indira Nagar, Kanpur, where Kovind’s family resides, rarely met him when he visited the city — some of them did not even return his calls. Kovind was never active for the BJP or RSS in Kanpur. Interestingly, in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he wanted to contest from Orai (SC) but he did not get a ticket. He was a little annoyed and the party then appointed him governor of Bihar. He is the longstanding president of the All India Koli Samaj, a community of Hindu weavers with a sizable population in districts such as Kanpur and Faizabad in UP.
With the announcement of his candidature, the BJP’s worries ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls are quite clear: with Mulayam-Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Sonia Gandhi’s Congress clearly showing an inclination to fight the elections jointly, the BJP knows such a coalition may weaken its prospects in UP. With BJP leaders, including Chief Minister Adityanath already wooing Dalits, Kovind’s elevation is expected to give the party’s fortunes a further boost.