Ram Nath Kovind: A lawyer who fought for the downtrodden
Known for his aversion to controversies, Ram Nath Kovind has a history of working for the uplifment of marginalised communities. Photo credit: PTI.
By choosing Kovind, the BJP intends to expand its Dalit support base in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Soft-spoken Kovind, like BSP founder Kanshi Ram, belongs to the extremely poor section of the Dalit community of Uttar Pradesh.
A lawyer by profession, Kovind belongs to Koli community, a sub-caste of larger Dalit community who have faced extreme depravation and discrimination in Northern India.
The BJP’s choice of Kovind comes at a time when Dalit groups have protested in Uttar Pradesh and other states against increased atrocities by upper castes and cow vigilantes.
If elected as the NDA nominee, Kovind will be Uttar Pradesh's first leader to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He will the second dalit president after K R Narayanan who hailed from Kerala.
Till date UP has only sent prime ministers --Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Charan Singh, VP Singh and Chandra Shekhar. Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah was the only UP-born leader to have held the highest post but he was only acting President for two brief terms.
Kovind as an NDA choice cannot be easily rejected or defeated by the opposition parties as he is known as a non-controversial BJP politician.
Kovind's name was a surprise to even those within the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who wanted somebody with a Hindutva image.
However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah managed to convince the RSS leadership with a strategy that could see the opposition split on choosing the next president.
Two years ago, when he picked Kovind as Bihar governor, Modi had tweeted that "he has spent his entire life working for the Dalits, the marginalised communities."
On Monday, after his name was announced, the PM said he will make an "exceptional president" and reminded everyone that he is a "farmer's son" who comes from a humble background and his "knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation."
Though the opposition is not too happy that the BJP announced its candidate without getting its nod, Kovind is known to enjoy good rapport with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has indicated support for his candidature.
Hailing from Derapur tehsil of Kanpur Dehat, Kovind was BJP's Lok Sabha candidate from Ghatampur seat in 1990. He lost and never contested again. He was elected twice to Rajya Sabha in 1994 and again in 2006.
Kovind's political innings began when he became one of the personal secretaries to then prime minister Morarji Desai during the Janata government in 1977. A lawyer for 16 years, he practised in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court (SC).
Kovind enrolled as an advocate in 1971 before becoming Central Government Advocate in the Delhi HC from 1977 to 1979 and Central Government Standing Counsel in the SC from 1980 to 1993. He became Advocate-on-Record of the SC in 1978.
Seventy-one-year-old Kovind is a former BJP national spokesperson who was close to AB Vajpayee and LK Advani. He headed BJP's SC/ST Morcha (1998 to 2002). Till he became an MP, Kovind lived in a rented apartment in Delhi's Kalibari. Known to avoid controversy, he never appeared on television when he was party spokesperson.
Kovind served as a member on many important Parliamentary Committees, including that of home affairs, law and justice, social justice and empowerment.
In 2012, Kovind was sent to Uttar Pradesh as BJP general secretary in 2012. Kovind refused to take up any responsibility for more than a year.
During his parliamentary tenure of 12 years, he emphasised on the development of basic infrastructure for education in rural areas by helping in the construction of school buildings in Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand under M.P. L.A.D. Scheme.
As a lawyer, Kovind took a leading role in providing free legal aid to the weaker sections of society, especially SC/ST women, needy and the poor under the aegis of “Free Legal Aid Society” in Delhi. He is married to Savita Kovind and has a son and a daughter.