Three years after she ended her tenure as Lok Sabha Speaker, Meira Kumar is back in public focus after being nominated as the Opposition candidate for President. The veteran Congress leader, a five-time MP, discussed what the presidential poll means to her in an interview at 1029, New Friends Colony, Delhi.
You have been a diplomat, an MP, a Union minister and the Lok Sabha Speaker. Which of these roles did you find the most challenging?
The most challenging role was when I was not holding any of these posts. It was also very fulfilling because I was working for the organisation then in various capacities – a member in the Congress Working Committee and AICC general secretary.
So what prompted you to contest the presidential poll now?
It was not my decision per se. It was the decision of 17 parties and my party’s leaders. I am honoured that they have selected me, have this kind of faith in me, and now it has become my decision.
Why did you agree to contest an apparently losing election when the NDA has a clear majority in the electoral college?
There is an ideology behind it. An election is an election. Everybody is eager to know the reason why I am contesting. So this gives me an opportunity to tell them what my ideology is; I will articulate my ideology. This is not a fight for a position. It is a fight for an ideology.
Why did you choose Gujarat to start your campaign from?
Mainly I am going to Sabarmati… I am going with the simple reason that I have great respect for these personalities.
What is the ideology for which you are fighting this election?
Democratic values, social justice, inclusiveness, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, transparency, end of poverty, destruction of the caste structure and so many things.
Did you see any threat to these things in recent years?
There is a threat to all of them. A lot of people feel that. We have this historical prejudice against a large number of people in society. We have tried to include them to remove the prejudices. Now I find that we are going back to starting those prejudices. That’s not good for the fabric of the society.
Recently a tweet by Sushma Swaraj questioned your attitude towards the Opposition when you were the Speaker…
I don’t think I was ever partisan. On the last day of the 15th Lok Sabha, all the leaders in the House made a farewell speech and all of them appreciated my work as Speaker. Not one of them, including the person you are referring to, said I was partisan. Then why this? All this to malign the image.
Does this upset you?
Such things keep happening in politics.
Your contest against Ram Nath Kovind has been projected as Dalit versus Dalit.
Why call us only Dalits, nothing beyond Dalits? If two people of the so-called upper castes fight or have fought for that supreme position, you will talk about their achievements, their abilities, their experience, their capacity. I do not think their caste is ever discussed. But when I come or my father or my illustrious opponent, the first thing that comes to everybody’s mind is that they are Dalits. How can they have come for this highest post, that is not even a reserved post? They should confine themselves to a reserved post… Then it is discussed in every discourse. Everyone’s mind… This is the reality of society, I am very sorry for that. In 2017, to reduce the presidential election to Dalilt versus Dalit — I think it is how generally people think about it — but from the more educated, more aware and more informed people and modern in their views, I am surprised they think like this.
BJP talked about Kovind’s Dalit identity.
That was very wrong. There is something he has achieved, he has other qualities.
The Opposition has projected you as “Bihar ki beti”. When you campaign in Bihar, will you reach out to the JD(U)?
I have a special place in my heart for Bihar because it is my native state. But I am contesting an election for the post of President of India. One gets either casteist or parochial.
On what ground are you seeking votes?
I think ideology is a great factor. There is nothing greater than that. Democracy runs on ideology… the only guiding force in an election is the ideology. It is the fighting force and the driving force. Other things are not of any consequence.
How important is it for any President to be seen not aligning to any party?
Yes, the President has to be totally apolitical while in office.
As a contestant, what is your assurance to all parties?
I have told them this is what I stand for and on the basis of this you please judge me and vote for me. Whoever has to be President has to take all sections along whether they vote for him or not.