What foreign media says about Ram Nath Kovind, India’s President-elect

Media across the world covered the Presidential Election 2017 for which lawmakers across the country cast their votes on Monday.

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Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an NDA meeting in New Delhi on Sunday. (PTI Photo)

Ram Nath Kovind, former Bihar governor and BJP leader, has won Presidential election 2017 against opposition’s Meira Kumar, a Dalit leader and former Lok Sabha speaker. Kovind secured 7,02,644 votes against Meira Kumar’s 3,67,314 votes. Media across the world covered the Presidential Election 2017 for which lawmakers across the country cast their votes on Monday.

Almost all reports of the election in foreign media had claimed that NDA’s Ram Nath Kovind was set to defeat opposition’s Meira Kumar. The reports also highlighted the Dalit status of Kovind and claimed how his election would be symbolic “boost” for PM Narendra Modi, who is trying to “woo Dalit voters.” Some of the reports also noted the recent alleged rise of attacks against Dalits and pointed out that Kovind would be the first President close to the RSS.

The Irish Times reported “the two-candidate contest is likely to be won by Ram Nath Kovind, a 72-year old “low-caste” Dalit and former state governor, who is supported by prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).” It also pointed out that Kovind would be the first Indian leader close to “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Volunteer Corps, that provides the BJP ‘spiritual and philosophical’ guidance.” On RSS, the report claimed, “RSS believes in keeping Hinduism pure by protecting it from “outside” influences such as Islam and Christianity, and has been accused of stoking religious hatred against Islam.”

Sputnik International said India is “projected” to elect a member of “lowest social rung to the presidency for the second time in history.” It further said that that in India “social caste system has kept a high percentage of the population of the country in abject poverty for thousands of years.” On India’s Dalits, the report says, “A person born a dalit, considered to be outside of the four official social castes that make up Hindu culture in India, is branded from birth as “impure” and is by definition shoved to the periphery of the country’s culture.”

Kovind’s nomination, said Sputnik International, is a part of “what is considered by many to be a long-term play to bring Dalit voters under the wing of the BJP Hindu nationalist.”

UK-based The Telegraph reported India is “set to elect a new president from its Dalit community.” It also claimed that Kovind’s election is “being seen as a way for Mr Modi to gain political capital among the Dalit community, who number around 200 million in the nation of 1.3 billion, and are relegated to the margins of society.”

The Telegraph also notes that Kovind would the first President closely associated with “powerful Hindu revivalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)”.

The Strait Times reported that Kovind has a clear advantage against Kumar. It described Kovind as a “low-profile politician better known for working behind the scenes, belongs to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.” The report says Kovind’s election would be a “boost” for BJP which has been “trying to woo Dalit community.”

Venezuela-based teleSUR said Kovind’s nomination is being seen by Dalit activists as a “calculated move” by NDA to “woo Dalit voters and shed its upper caste image.” The report noted that Kovind’s nomination has “raised eyebrows” of many Dalit activists who see the move as a “ploy to win over Dalit votes.” It claimed that there was an “upsurge” in crimes against Dalits since Modi came to power. It quoted an NCRB report saying 45003 atrocities were recorded against Dalits between 2015-16.

UK-based Metro reported, “India is on the verge of electing a member of the lowest Hindu caste as its president.”

The Nikkei Asian Review reported that most of the Indian lawmakers voted for Kovind, from the Dalit community. It noted, “Some see Kovind’s candidacy as an attempt by BJP to garner Dalit votes and offset criticism of it as a party for higher caste Hindus. Dalit support will be important to Modi when he seeks re-election in 2019 to continue his reform and development programs.”

Germany’s reported that Indian lawmakers voted on Monday for the country’s next president “in a contest that pits two politicians from the lowest Hindu caste rank that were once known as “untouchables.” It attributed analysts as saying that “Modi is trying to secure Dalit support ahead of critical 2019 general elections.”

The Voice of America said, “A low-caste candidate handpicked by the Bharatiya Janata Party is expected to emerge as India’s new president and seal the grip of Hindu nationalists on power.” On Kovind, it notes that he has “Hindu nationalist roots.” The “bid to catapult him (Kovind) to the nation’s top office is regarded an astute move by the BJP, which repeatedly points to his credentials as a symbol of the country’s low castes.”

Aljazeera said Kovind is predicted to win. “The winner of Monday’s contest will be India’s second president belonging to the Dalit community, after KR Narayanan, who was president between 1997-2002. Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”, are on the lowest rank of India’s traditional social system based on caste,” it said.

(The article was first published on July 18, 2017. Updated on July 20,2017)

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