In a move that is widely considered as a political masterstroke, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday chose Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit leader, as the NDA nominee for the forthcoming presidential election. Known as the staunch supporter of Dalit rights, 71-year-old Kovind would become the country’s second Dalit president, after KR Narayanan, if he gets elected. His election is almost a certainty as the ruling bloc with the support of some regional parties enjoys a majority in the electoral college. Moreover, many parties would be reluctant in opposing a Dalit candidate being elected to the country’s highest office.
Reflecting on NDA’s choice for the coveted post, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Kovind will make an exceptional president and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised. “I am sure Shri Ram Nath Kovind will make an exceptional President & continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden & marginalised,” PM Modi had tweeted. Heaping more praise on Kovind, the prime minister said his knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will greatly benefit the nation.
Kovind’s selection was announced by BJP President Amit Shah following the party’s parliamentary board, which was attended by Modi and senior party leaders. Shah also sought support from opposition parties and said that the prime minister had spoken to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh.
The Presidential election will be held on July 17 and the counting of votes will begin on July 20. The tenure of incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee’s term will come to an end on July 24.
The Congress, however, refrained from commenting on the issue immediately and said the opposition would take a call on contesting the election after a meeting on June 22. “Congress does not want to comment on this issue as we want to take a unanimous decision with all other opposition parties on the presidential elections. The final call will be taken in a meeting of all opposition parties on June 22,” senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said. Describing the BJP’s attempt to reach out to the opposition as a “formality and a PR exercise”, Azad said the BJP should have built a consensus before announcing the candidate. “But they informed us after announcing this decision so there is no scope for consensus now… we were not expecting this from the ruling party. But it is their will, they are free to take a one-sided unilateral decision,” Azad added.
The ruling TRS in Telangana and the Telugu Desam Party were among the first parties to have welcomed the decision and said they would support NDA’s presidential candidate Kovind. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath urged opposition parties to rise above party politics and back the NDA nominee for the post of President. On the other hand, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed his happiness over Kovind’s candidature but stopped short of committing support to the NDA nominee.
BSP leader Mayawati stated that her party would be positive provided the Opposition does not field any Dalit for the top post, while Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee said Kovind was chosen for the post just because he was the leader of Dalit Morcha of BJP.
Meanwhile, the CPI called upon the Opposition parties to put up their candidate against Kovind as the NDA’s candidate for the post of president is from the ranks of RSS.
Kovind, a lawyer-turned-politician, has been a champion of the scheduled caste, scheduled tribe, OBC, minority and women’s rights from his student days. He served as the former president of the BJP Dalit Morcha from 1998 to 2002, besides being the party’s national spokesperson. He was also the chief of the All-India Koli Samaj.
Kovind was elected to the Rajya Sabha in April 1994 from Uttar Pradesh and served two successive terms till March 2006. He also played a significant role during the stir by SC/ST employees in 1997 when certain orders issued by the Centre had an adverse impact on them. Subsequently, under the rule of the first NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, these orders were declared null and void following amendments in the Constitution.
As an advocate, Kovind was a pioneer in providing free legal aid to weaker sections, especially the SC/ST women, and poor and needy girls under the aegis of the Free Legal Aid Society in Delhi. He has also represented India in the United Nations and addressed the UN General Assembly in October, 2002.
With inputs from PTI