What is not surprising about Narendra Modi is his predilection for springing surprises. The choice of NDA’s Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind is the latest example of such a Mandrake act.
The Opposition’s representative is 71-year-old Meira Kumar, daughter of veteran Dalit Congressman Jagjivan Ram, who had in 1977 defected to the Janata Party—in which, the BJP was a significant constituent.
The sign of a successful leader like Modi is his ability to force opponents to follow his agenda. The Opposition got what it wanted, but not who it wanted. The Congress had hoped for a consensus to prove it still mattered but was cornered into sponsoring a Dalit, thereby converting the presidential contest into a caste war. Ironically, Meira was chosen mainly for being a Dalit trusted by Sonia Gandhi.
The mudslinging that followed vitiated the atmosphere. A social media war ensued—vis-a-vis Meira’s IFS credentials, there was little mention of Kovind representing India in UN and addressing the UN General Assembly in 2002. Instead, he was mauled for his support to Bangaru Laxman—as expected from a senior BJP Dalit leader. Meira’s transgressions came out as worse: land grab and misuse of official position.
It’s obvious presidential elections have hardly ever been fought on ideology since Indira Gandhi tightened her grip on politics in the ’70s. Before that scholarship, stature and political acumen defined the Indian presidency. Dr Rajendra Prasad did not become the Rashtrapati because he was a kayasth. Nor did Dr Radhakrishnan by virtue of his Brahmin parentage.
Today is the 42nd anniversary of the Emergency; on June 25, 1975, the first travesty of presidential dignity was committed by Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who signed its proclamation, supposedly from the bathroom. Gandhi-loyalist Giani Zail Singh had offered to sweep the floor for Indira. Pratibha Patil’s main qualification was she was a Gandhi family lackey. Downgrading the accomplished Meira as just a Dalit counter card is a disservice to the office of the President.
Historically, the Congress has cultivated Dalits as a powerful vote bank. India’s first Dalit president was a former Congress minister, KR Narayanan. As mere symbology, the purpose failed: 13 Dalits are murdered, three Dalit homes are burnt and 21 Dalit women are raped every week. The second Dalit president will be Kovind.
As one of BJP’s prominent Dalit faces, in 2003 he had sought stringent laws against brutalities against Dalits, especially women and children. He even admitted such atrocities were a reason for Dalits leaving Hinduism—a bold stance for a BJP leader. It is clear that to empower the children of a lesser god, rulers need merciless will to punish feudal barbarity, caste-dominated police mindsets and end discrimination in education.
Economics is the key to neutralising caste. Boosting industry in the interior and ensuring safety of investment should be enforced in BJP’s social engineering agenda. Reservation for Dalits in rural job creation will guarantee their social dignity. Ram Nath Kovind does not need his Dalit-ness to win. President Kovind, however, can lead the war of hearts and minds against an evil that has bloodied past centuries and could stain the times to come. Over to you, Mr. President.