Current Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind. | Photo Credit: Ranjeet Kumar
Party’s parliamentary board picks Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as presidential candidate
rBJP president Amit Shah on Monday declared Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the party’s candidate for the presidential polls, taking the Opposition by surprise. Mr. Kovind would also be the joint candidate of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), headed by the BJP.
The decision was taken at the party’s parliamentary board, presided over by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and attended by Mr. Shah and senior Ministers of the Union government.
“Ramnathji has always spoken for the deprived sections, and has had a long career in speaking out for Dalits and oppressed sections,” said Mr. Shah, while making the announcement. The reference to Mr. Kovind’s attributes as the voice of the weaker sections and Dalits is a very strong signal of the BJP’s moves through the years to shed its upper caste image, and appeal to a wider section of society.
He will be the second Dalit President India has had since the late K.R. Narayanan was elected to the office in 1997. As a party insider, having held many posts in both the Uttar Pradesh BJP unit and at the national level, Mr. Kovind will also be the first from the party fold to make it to the Rahstrapati Bhavan.
BJP leaders said four sets of nomination papers had been prepared, with the Prime Minister, the BJP chief, Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu as the first proposers. Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister H.N. Anantha Kumar, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and BJP chief whip Rakesh Singh arrange for the other signatures on these papers. The nomination papers will, in all likelihood, be filed on June 23.
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Mr. Modi, who called Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh after the meeting, described Mr. Kovind as “a farmer’s son, who comes from a humble background” and who has “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 tweeted after the decision of the parliamentary board meeting became public.
Mr. Kovind, 71, has been associated with the RSS and causes related to Dalits. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha twice, from 1994 to 2006, before being appointed Bihar Governor in 2015. He was the general secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Koli Samaj in Kanpur (the Koli community is mainly engaged in weaving), and the national president of the BJP Scheduled Caste Morcha. A trained lawyer, he became advocate on record in the Supreme Court in the 1970s. Mr. Kovind’s record within the BJP has been steady, if uneventful.
His roots in rural Kanpur are also being seen as a way of bolstering the party among the Dalits of Uttar Pradesh. The State’s Saharanpur district has been the scene of violent clashes between the upper castes and the Dalits after the new BJP government took charge. This move will, BJP hopes,
reinforce its recent successes in co-opting Dalit communities into its fold, the larger project of consolidation of a mass base that it envisages for itself.
The move will also put several parties, including Bahujan Samaj Party and the Janata Dal (United) in a spot over how to oppose a candidate from the Dalit community, who has held high constitutional office before.