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Mahatma Gandhi wanted a dalit woman as India's first President

Shemin Joy, NEW DELHI, DH News Service May 11 2017, 16:28 IST
The book 'Why Gandhi Still Matters: An Appraisal of the Mahatma's Legacy' comes at a time when names of Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, both Dalits, are being speculated among possible candidates from BJP and opposition camps respectively.

The book 'Why Gandhi Still Matters: An Appraisal of the Mahatma's Legacy' comes at a time when names of Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, both Dalits, are being speculated among possible candidates from BJP and opposition camps respectively.

At a time the parties are changing their gears to choose nominees for Presidential polls, a new book says that Mahatma Gandhi wanted a Dalit woman as India's first President but this "radical suggestion" was turned down.

The country had to wait till 1997 to get a Dalit president in K R Narayanan even as Mahatma's grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, a writer and academician, reveals a couple of conversations and a speech Gandhi made in June 1947 spelling out his preference.

The book 'Why Gandhi Still Matters: An Appraisal of the Mahatma's Legacy' comes at a time when names of Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, both Dalits, are being speculated among possible candidates from BJP and opposition camps respectively.

Gandhi's another grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi is also being actively considered as a candidate by the opposition, which is looking at a possibility of fielding a joint nominee to take on the BJP-led NDA. He was also proposed as a Vice President candidate in 2012.

According to the book, the proposal for a Dalit as the first President was sparked off by the death of a "talented" young Dalit from Andhra Pradesh, Chakrayya, who was with Gandhi at Sevagram ashram from its inception.

Gandhi said on 2 June 1947 at the prayer meeting in memory of Chakrayya that he would have proposed his name for the top post had he been alive.

Four days later, he repeated his thoughts with Rajendra Prasad, who became the country's first President on 26 January 1950, saying that a Dalit like Chakrayya, on whom he had "nursed high hopes", or a Dalit girl should be made the first president.

"If I have my way, the President of the Indian Republic will be a chaste and brave Bhangi girl...If such a girl of my dreams becomes President, I shall be her servant and I shall not expect from the Government even my upkeep. I shall make Jawaharlal (Nehru), Sardar (Vallabhai) Patel and Rajendra Babu her ministers and therefore her servants," Gandhi said later at a public address on 27 June, 1947.

However, the book says, Gandhi's "radical suggestion of a Dalit head of state was turned down" as "Nehru, Patel and company wished" to retain Lord Mountbatten as Governor General..

"They thought the subcontinent’s princely states would be more likely to choose India over Pakistan if the King’s cousin continued as Governor General. Gandhi agreed to Mountbatten staying on, but repeated that he wanted an 'untouchable' to head the Indian state before long," the book says.

The Mahatma was of the view that election of a Dalit girl would have shown to the world that in India there is no one high and no one low. “She should be chaste as Sita and her eyes should radiate light. We shall all salute her and set a new example before the world,” the book quotes Gandhi as saying.

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