NEW DELHI: At 2 pm Monday, BJP chief Amit Shah proved the prophecy of a blind spiritual guru right when he announced Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA candidate for the presidential election.
On May 3, according to BJP vice-president Prabhat Jha, Jagatguru Rambhadracharya, a blind spiritual guru who is the chancellor of Chitrakoot University for the Handicapped, had told the Bihar governor he would soon occupy the highest post in the country,.
“I accompanied the Bihar governor to the birth place of Sita at Punoradham in Sitamarhi district on May 3,” Jha told the New Indian Express. “Rambhadracharya told Kovind he will occupy the highest constitutional post of the country.”
Rambhadracharya was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2014 after the NDA came to the power, in recognition of “exceptional services to the handicapped”.
Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi choice of Kovind was conditioned by his refusal to spare any of his ministers for the president’s post. “One senior minister (Manohar Parrikar) has become chief minister of Goa and another (Anil Madhav Dave) died recently. I cannot spare any other minister from the Cabinet for the Presidential election,” Modi reportedly told the BJP Parliamentary Board.
Within the party, Union minister for social justice Thavarchand Gehlot and former Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh Satyanarayan Jatiya were seen as contenders for the post. “With Modi refusing to spare Gehlot, Ram Nath Kovind was seen as best suited due to his command of Hindi and English, besides his expertise as a lawyer. The fact that Kovind is the governor of Bihar and hails from Uttar Pradesh clinched the case, as the BJP wants to win as many seats as possible out of the 120 Lok Sabha constituencies in the two states, sources said.
A top BJP leader recalled that Kovind made the RJD’s Tej Pratap Yadav take the oath as a minister in the Nitish Kumar cabinet again for mispronouncing a word. “The Prime Minister has always been appreciative of Kovind for his command over both languages. That he comes from a Dalit community and was born in a poor family appealed to the Prime Minister,” the source added.
There had been speculation that the BJP would opt for a tribal candidate since none from the community has yet become president. But by preferring a Dalit, it’s clear that the ruling party has its sights set on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“Tribals are only in Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhatisgarh and a few other states. But Dalits are 23 per cent of the population, and are spread over across the country. Therefore, the party chose to bank on a Dalit candidate, who will be difficult to oppose by the Opposition parties,” said a senior BJP functionary.
Monday’s BJP Parliamentary Board meeting, presided over by the party chief Amit Shah and attended by the Prime Minister and several Union Ministers, left it to Modi to make the choice. It was the PM who plumped for Kovind.
Before Shah made the name public, the Prime Minister telephoned his predecessor Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and sought their support “for the Dalit son of a poor farmer, who worked all his life for the downtrodden”.
Afterwards, the PM asserted that the 71-year-old Kovind, a two-term former MP of the Rajya Sabha, would “make an exceptional president and be a strong voice for the poor, weak and downtrodden”.
If elected, as he is likely to be, Kovind will be the first president from UP, and the second Bihar governor, after Zakir Hussain, to occupy the highest constitutional post.
Even while the Parliamentary Board meeting was going on, BJP MPs and MLAs made a beeline to the residences of Union ministers Ananth Kumar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, and party whip Rakesh Singh. “Four sets of nomination papers – one each proposed by the Prime Minister, the BJP chief, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and former Punjab CM Prakash Singh Badal – with 120 signatures of MPs and MLAs will be filed. The schedule of campaigning by the presidential nominee has also been drawn up, sources said.
Barring Shiv Sena, which is yet to take a decision, the BJP chief is learnt to have got unconditional support of all the NDA allies. The BJP got a shot in the arm after YSR Congress, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and AINRC of Puducherry extended support to Kovind’s candidature.
The BJP is hoping that the Samajwadi Party, BSP, JD (U), BJD, both factions of the AIADMK, NCP and others will also support Kovind. “Before announcing the nominee, the BJP had stitched up 54 per cent of the total of 10,95,619 votes in the presidential election, which will likely surpass the 69 per cent scored by UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee in the 2012 election, sources said.
The BJP is bracing up to ensure that Kovind files his nomination papers by June 23, as the Prime Minister would be embarking on foreign tour a day after that. While the BJP is hoping for a consensus, the saffron outfit is expecting a contest, as the Left and Congress will not want to be seen supporting the BJP. Opposition leaders have already dropped hints that the ruling party has made unilateral decision. Incidentally, the BJP backed the late P A Sangma against Mukherjee in 2012 on grounds that the party was not consulted before the name was made public.