India is set to get its second Dalit president as the BJP on Monday picked Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA nominee for the top constitutional post.
The 71-year-old low profile Dalit leader, a two-term BJP Rajya Sabha member, is seen as an astute choice by the saffron party, which has been targeted by opposition parties over Dalit issues, and his election is almost a certainty as the ruling bloc with the support of some regional parties enjoys a majority in the electoral college.
K R Narayanan was the country's first Dalit president.
BJP President Amit Shah made the announcement following over two-hour long meeting of the party's parliamentary board, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior party leaders.
"The BJP also discussed the issue with all political parties and several sections of the society. After this, a long list (of candidates) was prepared which was discussed during the Parliamentary Board meeting," Shah told the media.
Seeking support from opposition parties, Shah said Modi spoke to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and sought their support.
Top BJP leaders also spoke to various opposition parties and also got in touch with their allies.
Kovind, a lawyer, two-term Rajya Sabha MP and former president of the BJP's 'Dalit Morcha', is likely to file his papers on June 23.
Ram Nath Kovind will make an exceptional president and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday.
Modi pointed out that Kovind, a farmer's son, comes from a humble background. "He devoted his life to public service & worked for poor & marginalised," he said in another tweet.
Kovind flew down to Delhi on Monday evening hours after he was named for the top job and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
NDA constituents barring the Shiv Sena on Monday welcomed the candidature of Ram Nath Kovind for the president's post.
With both the names suggested by it — RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and noted agriculturist M S Swaminathan — rejected, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said the Dalit candidate was chosen merely for vote-bank politics.
The Sena will take a final decision on Tuesday regarding its support to 71-year-old Kovind.
The other NDA allies, however, were more kindly predisposed. The ruling TRS in Telangana and Telugu Desam Party backed the BJP's nominee.
Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan extended full support to the NDA's presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, saying his choice is a political masterstroke by Modi. More reports on P6