Ram Nath Kovind as NDA’s presidential candidate: Ear to the ground, eye on 2019

Before that, the BJP had managed to engineer a rebellion by Nitish Kumar’s handpicked Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, another Dalit, and bring him into the NDA.

Written by Ravish Tiwari | Updated: June 20, 2017 8:33 am
Ram Nath Kovind, Narendra Modi, presidential candidate, Dalit President, Bihar, Bihar BJP, Bihar BJP leaders, Governor of Bihar, indian express Celebrations at Ram Nath Kovind’s family home in Parokh, UP. Vishal Srivastav

During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign rally in Gaya on August 9, 2015, Bihar BJP leaders repeatedly referred to Ram Nath Kovind, and his Dalit identity. Kovind, now the BJP’s candidate for President of India, had been declared Governor of Bihar a day earlier.

Before that, the BJP had managed to engineer a rebellion by Nitish Kumar’s handpicked Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, another Dalit, and bring him into the NDA. Manjhi’s induction and Kovind’s appointment was meant to dent the grand alliance of Nitish and Lalu Prasad at the Assembly elections. The move did not work then — but a little less than two years on, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party have decided to use Kovind’s membership of a Dalit community to frustrate the champions of identity politics at the elections to the country’s highest office.
Also, heartburn among the many presidential hopefuls in the BJP notwithstanding, there are few within the party or the larger Sangh Parivar who would publicly object to the move to install a Dalit in Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Also read: He denied us favours, said work hard, recalls nephew

Cow belt gambit

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which account for 120 seats in Lok Sabha, have particular significance for the BJP-led NDA. The coalition won 104 of these seats in 2014; however, its limitations were exposed against the combined might of Lalu and Nitish in the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections. And in UP, following the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 Assembly polls, the prospect of the SP and BSP joining hands in 2019 no longer appears unthinkable.

Kovind’s Dalit identity and UP domicile has the potential to loosen Mayawati’s hold on the community in the state. And Lalu and Nitish — both of whom are keen to project themselves as champions of Dalits in Bihar — will find it difficult to oppose the man who is best placed to become the first North Indian Dalit President. The previous Dalit occupant of Rashtrapati Bhawan, K R Narayanan, hailed from the South.

BJP president Amit Shah’s battle-ready election machinery will now roll into every nook and corner of these two politically crucial states to spread the word about a Dalit President from the cow belt. In Bihar, the BJP had delayed its move — this time, Amit Shah has a full two years before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Also read: Kovind had opposed SC status for Dalit Christians, Muslims

Identifying with Dalits

Modi’s dream of spreading the BJP umbrella across the country hinges on deepening its presence among Dalits. This is essential to the party’s long-term plans, given its lack of support among Muslims. The Prime Minister has been trying to weave the BJP into the imagination and consciousness of Dalits by laying claim to the iconography around Dr B R Ambedkar. Between April 2015 and April 2016, the PM attended at least 10 programmes with links to Ambedkar, including a special celebration of the Constitution in Parliament in November 2015.

The Opposition has, however, stressed on incidents such as the death of a Dalit scholar in Hyderabad Central University, flogging of Dalits in Una by cow vigilantes and, after the formation of a BJP government in UP, Thakur-Dalit clashes in Saharanpur, to question the party’s commitment to Dalits.

Sending Kovind to Rashtrapati Bhawan is intended to blunt the Opposition’s argument about the BJP being a party of upper castes. The message is, in fact, likely to travel to Dalits well beyond the cow belt. Any attempt to portray the BJP as anti-Dalit will be politically countered with Kovind’s name.

Enlarging Modi’s pro-poor image

The BJP has also been working hard to craft a pro-poor image for the Prime Minister. And on Monday, Amit Shah spoke about the humble background (garib) of Kovind to solicit support for him. Despite having been a BJP spokesman, a government counsel in the Supreme Court and a Rajya Sabha MP, Kovind has stayed under the public radar. This, in a way, contributes to the imagery of his humble background — which contrasts sharply with that of other prominent Dalit leaders such as BSP supremo Mayawati and former Union Ministers Meira Kumar and Sushil Shinde. In this situation, the BJP hopes, Kovind’s elevation would burnish the Prime Minister’s pro-poor credentials. Expect the BJP to harp on this aspect for the next couple of years.

What remains to be seen

The fact, however, remains that Kovind has never been a mass leader whose personality might be expected to automatically resonate with the mass of people. His appointment as Bihar Governor had surprised most BJP leaders, and his nomination for President has come as a bigger surprise. Spreading the message that is crucial to the BJP will depend significantly on the efficiency of the party’s organisational machinery.

The symbolic significance of elevating a Dalit leader from the cow belt to the highest office is immense. The pulls and pressures of Lutyens’ politics have been set aside. Kovind may or may not be a rubber-stamp Head of State — but given the way he has acted in Patna’s Raj Bhawan, it is unlikely he will be a difficult President.

ravish.tiwari@expressindia.com

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  1. J
    Jay
    Jun 20, 2017 at 10:20 pm
    Since Christianity is native to Middle East, Sesxual slavery, or being sold to be a wife, was common in Christainty. Throughout the Old Testament, the taking of multiple wives is recorded many times. An Israelite father could sell his unmarried daughters into servitude, with the expectation or understanding that the master or his son could eventually marry her (as in Exodus 21:7-11.) It is understood by Jewish and Christian commentators that this referred to the of a daughter, who "is not arrived to the age of twelve years and a day, and this through poverty."
    Reply
    1. J
      Jay
      Jun 20, 2017 at 10:11 pm
      Christians claim everyone is equal but the reality is different. Christianity is the only religion which created slavery and racism. I don't think Indians now fall for the Christianity conversion bait since slavery is predominant in Christianity. The Bible contains several references to slavery, which was a common practice in antiquity. The Bible stipulates the treatment of slaves, especially in the Old Testament. There are also references to slavery in the New Testament. Israelite slaves were to be offered release after six to seven years of service, with some conditions. A foreign slave could be bequeathed to the owner's family, be made to serve for the life of the slave, except in the case of certain injuries. The Biblical texts outline sources of slaves, legal status of slaves, economic roles of slavery, types of slavery, and debt slavery, which thoroughly explain the ins ution of slavery in Israel in antiquity.
      Reply
      1. E
        Employ Ment
        Jun 20, 2017 at 4:19 pm
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        Reply
        1. S
          Sankaran Krishnan
          Jun 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm
          If Political Parties weigh each other and raise the caste bogey for each office and organisation, India will go backwards only instead of forward movement of caste less society which is only a lip service followed by one and all of the Politicians. It is not auger well as an Developing Nation and what we need is at these higher posts are mostly matured, intelligent and the experience they have to carry forward during their visits to the Foreign Nations and get due respect but the likes of names who had held the post and the likes of Zail Singh, Pratiba Patil etc are spoiled the image though the new incumbent is not in that category but still the category of people and its likes of L K Advani, Swaminathan, Metro Man Sreedharan etc., might have brought respect to the post which they don deserve !!!
          Reply
          1. T
            terrible
            Jun 20, 2017 at 3:20 pm
            This dalit is no dalit, he is RSS sucker. He did not do anything for dalits nobody knows him. BJP fooling to get dalit votes in 2019. Anyways president in India is a rubber stamp. Will BJP/RSS elect a dalit prime minister? will BJP/RSS chaddi marry their daughters/sisters to dalits? these are real questions. Dalits beware, do not fall for cosmetic steps while dalit bro are lynched openly in public and in UP dalit activists in the jail but BJP/RSS thugs who started riots roaming free. The BJP/RSS chaddis are trying to make fool of public again
            Reply
            1. Y
              Yashwant Singh
              Jun 20, 2017 at 3:16 pm
              He (1) practiced law in the High Court and Supreme Court (2) Has been a Rajya Sabha member for two terms (3) is Governor of a State (4) has represented India in United nations (5) is calm and dignified unlike Mayavati (remember his being denied entry as a visitor to the President's Shimla Resort and not making a fuss about it). WHAT ELSE SOME PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR.
              Reply
              1. S
                Sunder
                Jun 20, 2017 at 2:42 pm
                This is a man who reportedly said that Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation. No wonder he has been hand-picked by the RSS. Nothing to worry as, "this, too, will pass".
                Reply
                1. J
                  Jay
                  Jun 20, 2017 at 10:01 pm
                  Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation. Hats the fact. So what's wrong with it. Christianity originated with Islam from Middle East. One went up to Europe and other spread towards east. Both have Arabic names. Azaan is in Arabic. Isn't it? So do you want the world to lie and say Islam and Christianity are native to India? Imagine what will your Sunni brothers do to you.
                  Reply
                2. R
                  Rakesh
                  Jun 20, 2017 at 2:13 pm
                  Modi is anti Brahmin
                  Reply
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