Opposition’s dilemma: Can they oppose a Dalit face?

THE BJP seems to have successfully created the need for a rethink among Opposition leaders over proposing a joint candidate by naming Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA’s Presidential nominee.

Written by Anand Mishra | New Delhi | Updated: June 20, 2017 4:28 am
 Ram Nath Kovind, NDA, BJP, Presidential nominee, Opposition presidential polls, Presidential polls, Bihar Governor, Delhi President, India news, Indian Express Ram Nath Kovind’s relatives celebrate near his house in Uttar Pradesh. (Express Photo/Vishal Srivastav)

THE BJP seems to have successfully created the need for a rethink among Opposition leaders over proposing a joint candidate by naming Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA’s Presidential nominee. While Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) is finding it “difficult” to oppose a “Mahadalit face” like Kovind, as a party leader put it, Mayawati said the BSP will have a “positive stand” towards Kovind’s candidature even though she does not “agree with his politics”, unless the Opposition fields a “more popular and able person from Dalit section”.

The Samajwadi Party’s Naresh Agrawal merely pointed at the upcoming Opposition meeting on Thursday. Even Lalu Prasad’s RJD, which has until now struck an aggressive posture, on Monday pointed towards the meet, although party spokesperson Manoj Kumar Jha said that the country needs someone in Rashtrapati Bhawan who can “protect the values” of the Constitution.

“The unilateral announcement (of Kovind’s candidature) itself is against the idea of consensus,” Jha said in Patna. “While the proposed Opposition meet will take a call on June 22, it is important to highlight that in the prevailing situation, we desperately need a person who should protect the values enshrined in the Constitution… there is visible threat on it from several quarters.”

Showing precisely why Opposition parties have seemingly softened their stance on a joint candidate to take on the NDA, Ram Vilas Paswan, a Union minister who comes from the Dalit community, said, “Those who do not back a non-controversial person like Kovind will be considered anti-Dalit by the people. Even if some other Dalit (candidate) is fielded by the Opposition, it will be considered ‘vote-katwa’ (vote-splitting) — as a move to put obstacles in the move to make a Dalit the country’s President.”

Paswan’s remarks came in the backdrop of speculation that the Opposition is considering former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, who also comes from a Dalit community in Bihar, as its candidate. JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav only said, “Opposition parties will meet on June 22. We will discuss and decide what to do.”

The party’s general secretary, K C Tyagi, put the dilemma before JD(U) more forthrightly: “We do not think Kovind is a fanatic RSS person. Unlike many other Governors, who were constantly in confrontation with Chief Ministers from non-NDA parties, Kovind did not create discomfort for the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar for even one day. Besides, he was also in the staff of former Prime Minister and Janata Party leader Morarji Desai.”

“There is also the fact that we were in the forefront of Opposition unity on this issue,” he added.

Asked whether his party will support Kovind’s candidature or would like the Opposition to announce a joint candidate, SP’s Agrawal parried a direct reply. “There is a meeting on June 22. We will decide only then,” he said.

Ram Kripal Yadav, a Union minister who comes from Bihar, said the Opposition should show “large-heartedness” and back Kovind, “especially those from JD(U) and RJD, as… Kovind’s election as President will be a matter of pride for Bihar”.

Fellow Union minister Ramdas Athavale said Kovind’s nomination has created an atmosphere of enthusiasm among Dalits and urged the Opposition parties against fielding a candidate against him.

(With inputs from Santosh Singh in Patna)
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