Prez candidate: BJP plays Dalit card

The BJP has made a calculated political move with the nomination of Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA’s Presidential candidate. Though he is the NDA nominee, the choice was entirely the BJP’s. The surprise was part of the plan, and was very much in the style of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who likes springing sudden decisions on the nation. But the suddenness concealed a well-considered and probably long thought out idea of endorsing a Dalit for the country’s top constitutional post. It would also help that the candidate is from UP, which will continue to be the country’s most important state in electoral terms. There is a churn taking place in the state with some core Hindutva themes being tried on the ground under a leader who was equally unexpectedly thrust at its helm. The BJP has got some Dalit votes in the past, but wants to get a greater share of them in the coming elections. It has apprehensions that it is on the wrong side of the Dalit sentiment running from Rohith Vemula through Una to Saharanpur, and so an investment in a Dalit presidency can be of value.

The BJP may also have intended to split the opposition with Kovind’s candidature. The opposition parties were planning to field a common candidate against the NDA nominee. With this, they also wanted to lay the basis of a united front which would move on to the next Lok Sabha elections. The BJP’s claimed moves for a consensus were a charade, and this was clear to everyone. It had enough strength in the electoral college to get its candidate elected, with promises of support from some regional parties. Some more parties have now offered their support. But the Congress, the Left parties and the Trinamool Congress will contest the election and will most likely find a Dalit
candidate to fight against Kovind. It is a political fight for them too and they will not like to give the NDA candidate a walkover.

Kovind is a non-controversial and low-profile person. He has some professional experience as
a lawyer and legislative experience in the Rajya Sabha, and as a governor. But his personal qualities or qualifications are not very relevant, and what mattered in his selection is his Dalit identity. Presidential elections have been used in the past for political fights or to convey political messages. But it is the first time that identity politics has been introduced into it. It is anybody’s guess whether the election of a Dalit as President under its watch would politically help the BJP. Symbolism sometimes works and sometimes it does not.

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