Ram Nath Kovind’s election as the next President of India seems to have surprised the foreign media, with some calling it a “rare achievement”. Reason: Kovind comes from a Dalit caste.The foreign media have, however, hailed his election. In an article headlined as “India’s new president rose from poverty to high office”, The Washington Post highlighted the rise of Kovind from a humble background to the top office of the country. Tracing Kovind’s life journey, it said, “Born in a mud hut in an impoverished village, Kovind, who is from the Koli weaver caste, rose to become a Supreme Court lawyer and later a politician with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”
The Washington Post noted the significance of Kovind’s election, saying, “Generations of oppression, coupled with limited economic opportunity, long kept senior political positions out of the reach of most low-caste Dalits, once known as “untouchables.” Kovind is the second Dalit President of India after KR Narayanan, who was president from 1997 to 2002.
The New York Times reported that Kovind’s election as President was a “rare achievement” for a member of the community that was once treated as “untouchable” and “deprived” in India. The NYT report said Kovind was selected as the BJP candidate in “an effort to secure the Dalit vote in future elections.”
The NYT headlined the report on the election of Kovind as “India Picks Ram Nath Kovind, of Caste Once Called ‘Untouchables,’ as President”. It also noted that Kovind’s Uttar Pradesh connection was also significant as the BJP has not “historically captured much of the Dalit vote, and recent flare-ups over issues affecting Dalits across the country could hurt the party politically.”
The NBC news reported with the headline, “India Elects ‘Untouchable’ President From Lowest ‘Dalit’ Caste”. It noted that India chose an “untouchable” as the next President after the “first contest in which both candidates were from the lowest tier of the country’s caste system.” It quoted James Chiriyankandath, a senior research fellow at the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies, as saying that the “real significance was not about caste but rather the expanding influence of the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and its brand of Hindu nationalism.”
The CNN said Kovind, the “man from India’s lowest caste” has been elected president. “A relatively unknown political operator and member of India’s lowest Dalit caste has been elected as the country’s 14th president,” it said.
The NPR headlined its report as, “India’s New President, Until Now Little-Known, Vows To Represent Less Fortunate.” The report noted that not many people had expected Kovind would become the Presidential candidate in the first place.
“Both Kovind and his opponent, the Congress Party’s Meira Kumar, a former speaker of the lower house, are Dalits — on the lowest rung of the Hindu hierarchy, once termed “untouchables,'” the NPR reported, while pointing out how choice of Kovind was seen as a Modi “master stroke” which “dividing the opposition.”
“Analysts say Kovind’s background worked to his advantage as the BJP stressed his humble origins and simple lifestyle,” it said.
The Australian published an AFP story on Kovind’s election with the headline, “Dalit elected Indian president in victory for the downtrodden.”