Journey of Ram Nath Kovind

His candidacy for president is being viewed in terms of his caste identity alone. This is an injustice

Written by Ram Madhav | Updated: June 21, 2017 5:02 pm
ram nath kovind, nda presidential candidate, dalit president, presidential elections, k r narayanan Ram Nath Kovind (PTI Photo)

“Maine jaise swayam safalta paayi, vaise tum log bhi mehnat karo (Just like I achieved success on my own, you should work hard for it too)”. These words of Ram Nath Kovind, the NDA’s nominee for president, to his nephew, quoted in a report in The Indian Express, aptly sum up the man in question. Kovind, besides many other things, is self-made.

From a humble village, Paraukh near Kanpur, to Parliament and Supreme Court in Delhi to Raj Bhavan in Patna, Kovind’s journey has been that of a committed and dedicated party activist and social worker. He joined the RSS and Jana Sangh and later graduated into an active leader of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.

Kovind is a lawyer by training. He served as the government’s standing counsel for more than a decade in the Supreme Court. Having cleared the civil services exams, he opted out when he couldn’t get into the coveted IAS cadre and was offered the allied services instead. He became a Rajya Sabha MP in 1994 and remained in the House for two terms until 2006. During his tenure in the Rajya Sabha he had the rare distinction of addressing the United Nations as a member of the Indian delegation in October 2002. Colleagues in Parliament remember him as a gentle, soft-spoken and yet a focused person. He served in the BJP in several capacities as the president of the SC Morcha and party spokesman.

In a caste-obsessed polity, Kovind’s caste identity becomes an important debating issue with some reducing it to the BJP’s “political outreach” while some others see it as a political “masterstroke”. Kovind’s identity as a Dalit is certainly a matter of fact. He belongs to a lower middle class family of farmers. His rise to become a nominee for the post of the first citizen of India is a tribute to the power of our value system and democracy.

Dalit aspirations in our country need newer representation and leaders like Kovind represent that new leadership. They represent the new age Dalit thinking centred on developmental activism of an empowered community. Seeing their social identity as integral to the larger national identity is the hallmark of this newly empowered Dalit leadership. This integrationist thinking is the product of the long years that leaders like Kovind have spent in imbibing the One Nation One People ideology of the BJP and its parivar.

But to limit the discourse to Kovind’s caste identity alone will be a great injustice not only to the man but also to the political maturity of our nation. Kovind is not going to be the first or last Dalit to occupy the 340-room red sandstone building of the British era called the Rashtrapati Bhavan. K.R. Narayanan occupied that palatial building for five years from 1997 to 2002. Like Narayanan, Kovind also is a well-read and accomplished leader.

Comparisons that are being made about the nominee and some former presidents are unfair and uncalled for. The office of president has largely been non-controversial in all these decades barring a couple of unsavoury episodes. Given his nature and temperament, Kovind is expected to fit smoothly into the job. The vast exposure to global politics that he acquired through travels to more than a dozen countries as part of the parliamentary delegations would also come in handy for him, as the president is also expected to receive global leaders.

Returning to Narayanan, it is important to recall what had happened in 2000 when he visited Paris. “An untouchable in Elysees” is how the French media had chosen to report the state visit of the Indian President. Le Monde was the only French newspaper to be given an interview by President Narayanan, and it again headlined the interview with his caste.

The Indian side, including the president himself, was thoroughly shaken and embarrassed by this outrageous portrayal of Narayanan’s humble beginnings in a most tactless and mocking way by the French media. The French establishment was forced to issue regrets and an apology.

The rise of K.R. Narayanan and Ram Nath Kovind to the highest position in India should be a matter of pride both for their personal identity as well as the nation’s collective will. When Dr Zakir Hussain became Vice President of India some enthusiasts had gone up to him to congratulate him. “A Muslim like Hussain becoming the Vice President of India shows how successful our secularism is”, they said. Dr Hussain reprimanded them saying “the true success of secularism is when a Muslim becomes the Vice President of India and yet nobody comes to congratulate him as a Muslim, and people see him only as an Indian.”

“Our politics is groupish, not selfish”, laments renowned social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind. Group identities become important and defining. That leads to stereotypes and, eventually, to more divisions. We end up making great national figures into small group leaders. As a consequence, the loss is to the entire nation, as we have already seen in the case of Narayanan.

If at all Kovind represents any section, it is that of the majority of India — rural, agrarian, economically and socially underprivileged. It is the same section that Prime Minister Narendra Modi represents. He too was sneered at by some Lutyens’ intellectuals as “chaiwala”. But both Kovind and Modi represent the true India — Marx’s proletariat and Socrates’ philosopher rolled into one.

The writer is national general secretary, BJP and director India Foundation.

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  1. M
    Jul 14, 2017 at 6:11 pm
    Visited the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar before becoming President.
    1. V
      Jun 23, 2017 at 4:16 pm
      It is Sangh Parivar who could give a shape what Zakir Hussain as in article (through Dr. APJ Kalam). Similarly, Mr. Modi and Mr. Kovind are examples that poor background, lack of pedigree does not matter in India. To sum up "dynasts" politics is having lesser acceptance and perhaps Congress wants to reverse the trend by making Ms. Meira Kumar a Presidential candidate.
      1. B
        Bhupendra kumar mishra
        Jun 22, 2017 at 6:52 am
        Dear, Ram Madhav everything said by you is correct but this is high time you tell the definition of middle class farming family or individual. Is a person who became an officer, Mp, and held various positions in the government since last 23 years is still a middle class? Please be honest and tell the people that, only eligible candidates is being selected for the post. I think it is enough for us accept the candidacy.
        1. A
          Jun 22, 2017 at 4:57 am
          Yes after commiting worst atrocities and terrorism on Dalits by Sangh parivar outfits and sanghi police now Modi and Amit Shah made a master stroke to get their votes by bringing in another unknown Pratibha Patil type guy to become president! But at the same time chaddis make sure that a chaddi dalit itself got the job so that their hate campaign against the minorities can continue and a chaddi president can approve what ever antipeople laws bring in sanghi state govts quickly. It shows that ModiShah combine can go to any extend to get the votes and consolidate power even though India becomes a laughing stock in front of the world when this guy stand in front of Putin,macron ,Merkel or trump. L. k advani or mm Joshi would have been a far better choice considering the stature required for this job. Welcome to new gau rakshak president of india !
          1. A
            Ajay Singh
            Jun 22, 2017 at 3:58 am
            How else should we read his nomination, if not in caste-politics terms? Until this week nobody had even heard of this gentleman. I am sure he is a good human being, and respect him as one. But being elected MP, addressing the UN, being "well-read," "soft spoken," etc. are hardly achievements worthy of being nominated President of a nation of a billion-plus people. At any time we have hundreds of MPs (many with criminal records, one might add). It seems the BJP is scrounging around for minor facts to cover the blatant political calculations behind this appointment .... they must take us for s. Ironic, since they trash other parties for playing vote bank politics. By all means make a Dalit the President ... but find someone of real distinction, who deserves the position. There are plenty of Indians with far better credentials - of course, not from the self-serving political class - who we would have been proud to call President. Shame.
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