Smart choice for President
In a move that has caught many by surprise, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday declared Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as its presidential candidate. For the uninitiated, Ram Nath Kovind is a soft-spoken Dalit politician from Uttar Pradesh. Most political commentators believe that although left-field, the choice of Kovind for president is indeed a smart move by the BJP-led Centre. Speaking to the media, BJP president Amit Shah explained the party's decision to back Kovind:
"Being a Dalit, he has struggled and achieved such landmarks in his political career." In the past few months, BJP governments in various states have come under heavy criticism for reports of atrocities against Dalits, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. If elected, however, Kovind will not become the first Dalit to become President of India. That honour rests with KR Narayanan (1997-2002). On camera, however, many senior leaders from both the ruling and opposition parties, have made an attempt to avoid any acknowledgement of the role Kovind's caste may have played in the BJP's choice. Non-NDA parties indeed fear the optics of opposing the selection of a Dalit as president.
Nonetheless, one can make a case for Kovind even without looking at his caste. The man has a prolific record in public life, despite maintaining a low profile and staying far from unnecessary controversies. A lawyer by trade, Kovind has practised extensively in High Courts and the Supreme Court of India. He has also served two terms as a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha. In 2011-12, he was appointed as the national spokesperson of BJP and oversaw the party's unsuccessful bid for supremacy in the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections.
As Governor of Bihar, Kovind has received high praise even from opposition quarters, unlike his counterparts in other states. "He has done exemplary work (as Governor of Bihar), worked with impartiality, maintained an ideal relationship with the state government," said Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. As an embodiment of the high principles that govern this nation, the institution of the President is something that no government can take lightly. One hopes that the BJP has made the right call.