Presidential election: BJP picks Dalit leader Ram Nath Kovind as nominee; Congress rules out consensus

Known as the staunch supporter of Dalit rights, 71-year-old Ram Nath Kovind would become the country's second Dalit president, after KR Narayanan, if he gets elected.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: June 19, 2017 6:38 pm
Ram Nath Kovind, president elections, nda nominee Ram Nath Kovind with President Pranab Mukherjee. (Express photo)

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

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  1. K
    kamal kishor
    Jun 20, 2017 at 11:49 am
    President post in India is considered as non-political post and the person should be non political. To chose the candidate on the basis of caste, religion and vote bank for cheap political gain is really disgraceful.
    1. R
      Ramesh Nittoor
      Jun 20, 2017 at 6:44 am
      Per ET the selection criteria was laid out by RSS, stress on SC or ST, Saffron hues, intellectual credibility, non-controversial. Clearly RSS is thinking long term for sa uarding Hindu dharma by engendering social equity. A mural or mosaic of caste iden ies, instead of hierarchical caste structure, is the avowed goal. Such social equity effort is also healthy politics of development. The non-controversial nature of the persona, is not just reinforcing of Cons utional values, it is an alternate world-view to left Dalit movement which have tapped anger by militating against upper caste. Dalit fission efforts away from Sanatana Dharma has been a strong left polity which shaped most of the post-Independence era, in this social fusion effort of Right polity an alternate pathway to foster excellence and equity may be chalked out. If there is consensus on candidature, this fusion transformation mode, may become largely apolitical, and Right be deemed as ingly secular.
      1. K
        Jun 20, 2017 at 6:25 am
        Who knows he may be the first one to agree to a bill to end reservations. We do not know anything about this man. Give him a chance.
        1. N
          Jun 20, 2017 at 5:43 am
          What could be said about the country who's first creteria of choosing its first citizen is his caste ? Thank God I left this country as soon as I finished my college.
          1. N
            Jun 20, 2017 at 5:42 am
            What could be said about the country who's first creteia of choosing its first citizen is his caste ? Thank God I left this country as soon as I finished my college.
            1. R
              Raj V
              Jun 20, 2017 at 5:37 am
              The pseudo-secular opposition parties will not be able to oppose and win.
              1. G
                Jun 20, 2017 at 5:13 am
                Pity that a regional politician takes preference over highly qualified and admired sagacious individuals like E Sreedharan and MS Swaminathan. The citizens of the country know the world of difference between APJ Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil . A rubber stamp for the ruling party will once again occupy the Rashtrapati bhavan. Though politically it maybe a smart move by the BJP , it will leave a vast majority of educated BJP supporters disenchanted. Be it Congress or BJP or any other party , they are the same color under the skin
                1. M
                  Moby Nastro
                  Jun 20, 2017 at 5:03 am
                  First beat Dalits under the guise of cow protectors and then make them leaders! WOW! Btw, why does a god (read cow) need humans to protect it? 🙄
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