New Delhi: Playing the Dalit card, the BJP on Monday named Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind as its presidential candidate. A surprise pick, Mr Kovind could be the second President hailing from Uttar Pradesh, a state with the largest number of MPs and the highest number of Assembly constituencies.
Mr Kovind’s name was also seen as part of the BJP’s gameplan for the crucial 2019 elections and a message to the Dalit community, that is both electorally significant and numerically dominant.
The Opposition parties have, meanwhile, called a meeting on Thursday to take a final call on whether or not to fight the election, with the Congress, CPM and Trinamul calling Mr Kovind’s choice a “unilateral decision” by the BJP.
The BJP-led NDA, however, seems to be in a comfortable position in the electoral college as some non-NDA outfits, including the Biju Janata Dal, TRS and YSRC, have pledged support to its candidate. The BJP also hopes that Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK will also back its choice.
The electoral college appears to be tilted toward the NDA despite ally Shiv Sena continuing the suspense over whether or not it would support Mr Kovind.
Mr Kovind’s name was officially announced by BJP president Amit Shah after the party’s parliamentary board meeting which was also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Kovind’s nomination can break Opposition unity
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Shri Ram Nath Kovind, a farmer’s son, comes from a humble background. He devoted his life to public service and worked for the poor and marginalised... With his illustrious background in the legal arena, Shri Kovind’s knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation... I am sure Shri Ram Nath Kovind will make an exceptional President and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised.”
Mr Modi himself called Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and several chief ministers, including Bihar’s Nitish Kumar, Andhra CM N. Chandrababu Naidu, Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik and Tamil Nadu's E. Palaniswami to seek their support for the NDA candidate.
Also, that the NDA nominee could dent the Opposition bloc’s unity was evident with JD(U) president and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar expressing his “personal happiness” over the NDA nominee, but he didn't commit his party’s support to his candidature.
Stopping short of expressing her party's support to Mr Kovind, BSP supremo Mayawati said her party could not be “negative” to a Dalit candidate. Dalits are a major votebank in both UP and Bihar, and the BSP’s core base. However, the BJP’s own ally Shiv Sena continued the suspense over whether or not it would support Mr Kovind when Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray said that “a Dalit face for the presidential elections is being used just for Dalit votes. The Sena never does caste-based politics”.
The Sena said it would declare its stand on the matter on Tuesday. Naveen Patnaik’s BJD joined ranks with Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP and K. Chandrasekhar Rao's TRS to support the NDA nominee.
A crusader for weaker sections
Kovind is a lawyer-turned-politician, whose choice as NDA’s presidential candidate is being seen as a political masterstroke.
- He is a lawyer by profession, a Dalit leader by caste, a Hindutva ideologue by thinking and a dedicated BJP worker by political affiliation.
- He had worked extensively in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
- Kovind was elected to Rajya Sabha in 1994 from UP and served for two consecutive terms for 12 years till March 2006.
- Kovind was BJP Scheduled Caste Morcha chief and president of the All-India Koli Samaj.
- He joined a stir by SC/ST employees in 1997 when certain orders by the Centre hit them badly.
- He represented India in United Nations (New York) and addressed the UNGA in 2002.
Who stands where
Congress: The Congress spurned the BJP’s appeal for consensus and said the opposition would take a call on contesting the election on June 22.
BSP: Mayawati said her party cannot take a negative stand against a Dalit. She, however, stopped short of supporting him.
LJP: Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan extended full support to Mr Kovind, saying his choice is a political masterstroke by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Shiv Sena: Uddhav Thackeray said Shiv Sena will take a final decision regarding its support on Tuesday.
Trinamul: Just because he was the leader of Dalit Morcha of BJP, they have made him the candidate, says Mamata Banerjee.
JD(U): Nitish Kumar expressed happiness over Ram Nath Kovind’s candidature for President's post, stopping short of committing support to the NDA nominee.