Ram Nath Kovind will become the first full-time President of India from Uttar Pradesh if he is elected in the Presidential election 2017. Only person from the state to become the resident of Raisina Hill in Delhi was Mohammad Hidayatullah, who served as an acting President from July 20, 1969 to August 24, 1969. BJP chief Amit Shah today announced the name of Kovind as the NDA Presidential candidate. The announcement came as a surprise as several other names including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj were doing the rounds. Moments before Shah’s announcement, some reports claimed the Opposition leaders were ready to accept Swaraj as the consensus candidate for the post. However, the BJP chief surprised the Opposition by proposing the Dalit leader and present Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind’s name for the crucial election.
The nomination of Kovind is now being seen as a masterstroke by the BJP for many reasons. Moreover, it also shows that BJP is serious about making inroads into Dalit constituency, which it successfully did in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections 2017, across the country.
Kovind doesn’t come across just as a Dalit leader but with many credentials. And Opposition parties, especially those engaged in politics for the welfare of the Dalits, would find it hard to oppose his nomination. At a time when the BJP-led Centre is under attack for allegedly not catering to the interests of Dalit community, Kovind’s candidature may assuage some groups opposed to the saffron party.
The timing of the announcement of Kovind’s name was also peculiar. Uttar Pradesh was recently rocked by Dalit protests following incidents of violence in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The incident provided the Opposition ample opportunity to attack the BJP for allegedly being anti-Dalit. However, by announcing Kovind’s name, the saffron party has given a clear signal about its politics when it comes to Dalits — that it is not limited only to tokenism. Recently, the Centre launched BHIM App for mobile money transfer named after Dalit icon and Father of Indian Constitution BR Ambedkar.
Some opposition parties were opposed to BJP announcing the name of any hardcore Hindutva leader for the election. While Kovind comes from RSS-BJP background, he maintains a low profile. Born in Kanpur Dehat, Kovind has been a successful lawyer and served in many high-profile offices, including the PMO during then PM Morarji Desai.
PM Modi is heading for the US to hold bilateral talks with President Donald Trump on June 26. With today’s announcement, Modi-Shah has not only surprised the Opposition and the political pundits but also given the civil society a food for thought to both groups. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was all praise for Kovind while talking to media after Shah’s announcement. And this explains why Kovind could prove to be a masterstroke for the BJP. Interestingly, if Kovind gets elected, India would get its serving PM and the President from the same state as Modi is an MP from Varanasi.