ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Pliant President-to-be?

Ram Nath Kovind’s tenure in Rashtrapati Bhavan could reinforce centralisation tendencies.

The nomination of Ram Nath Kovind as the candidate of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the post of President of India has provided an opportunity to the ruling party to pay lip-service to the cause of upholding the interests of the Dalits while, at the same time, continuing to ensure greater centralisation of power. The outcome of the 17 July elections is almost certain. Kovind will succeed Pranab Mukherjee since several non-NDA parties, including the Biju Janata Dal, the Janata Dal (United), and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi have already announced their support for him and he is expected to receive close to 55% of electoral college votes. While announcing his candidature, NDA chairman and BJP president Amit Shah emphasised Kovind’s background describing him as an individual who was “born in a poor Dalit family and who went the hard way up.” This foregrounding of Kovind’s identity as a Dalit has predictably attracted much attention and within days of his nomination, it was announced that former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar would be the candidate for much of the opposition—after having dilly-dallied over the idea of persuading Gopalkrishna Gandhi to become a candidate. It seems the Congress had its way in setting up a contest between a Dalit man and a Dalit woman for the post of commander-in-chief and head of state.

There have been a number of factors at play in the nominations and the events that followed. The Narendra Modi government has faced much criticism in the recent past due to its inaction on several caste-related incidents, including the unnatural death of Rohith Vemula who was a student at the University of Hyderabad, the assault on four Dalit men by gau rakshaks in Una, Gujarat and the multiple attacks on Dalits in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Kovind’s nomination is a cynical attempt to cover up the BJP’s reactions to these events. His nomination also plays into several longer-term projects of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. These include the depoliticisation of Dalit assertions and their co-option into the Sangh’s monolithic version of Hinduism which subtly celebrates Brahminism, the caste system and is virulently anti-minority; the appropriation of the legacy of Ambedkar; the division of Dalits as well as the Other Backward Classes in North India to wean them away from other parties. Kovind’s nomination shone a spotlight on fissures within the opposition and its ineffective political strategy that reacted only after the NDA had announced its candidate. While many have commented on his nomination in the context of identity politics and the BJP’s Machiavellian realpolitik, it is important to also assess the longer-term implications of his expected victory.

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Updated On : 28th Jun, 2021
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