India is most likely to have a Dalit president for the second time in its modern history. Ram Nath Kovind, the NDA’s official nominee for the top job in the country, comes from the Dalit social group.
It seems a clever move on part of the BJP to put the entire Opposition on backfoot by positioning a Dalit as the presidential candidate for the next five years. But it also shows nervousness on part of the BJP which is already under attack from Dalits.
Dalits and Muslims are, in fact, the two prominent social groups which are facing the brunt of Hindutva politics ever since the Modi government took charge at the Centre.
The Una episode was the one that brought into sharp focus the Dalit-upper caste tension brewing within various BJP ruled states. Una, a small town in Gujarat, came into media focus after four Dalit men were badly beaten up for skinning a dead cow.
It had led to Dalits taking to streets in big numbers to protest against the Gujarat government. It morphed into the Dalit March for Freedom from Ahmedabad to Una.
Thousands marched in this protest leading to emergence of a new Gujarat Dalit icon–Jignesh Mevani–who is now leading the Gujarat Dalits’ resistance against the BJP government.
History almost repeated itself in Uttar Pradesh (UP) last month where Saharanpur literally turned into another Una. The Saharanpur Dalit-Thakur clashes are too recent for people to forget. But it may be mentioned here that as soon as Yogi Adityanath took over as the UP Chief Minister, Dalits across the state were under attack from Thakurs.
Widespread Dalit resentment against the Yogi government has led to a Gujarat-kind Dalit movement led by the Bhim Army whose leader Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan is now under arrest.
Chandrashekhar, like Mevani, is sort of a cult figure amongst UP’s Dalit youths. These Dalit outbursts clearly reflect the latest churn within the rank and file of the Hindu society underdogs against the BJP.
This seems to have made the BJP strategists sit up and think of ways to somehow win over the Dalit constituency. Putting up Ram Nath Kovind, a UP Dalit, as the presidential candidate, is a desperate BJP move in that direction.
The BJP is also trying to put the Opposition on the backfoot. If the Opposition parties oppose the second-ever Dalit nominee for the top political job, they run the risk of being labelled as anti-Dalit.
Dalits are almost 25 per cent of the country’s 1.3 billion people. No political party can annoy such a huge vote bank.
It may be recalled that the name of Congress’ Dalit face Meira Kumar is doing the rounds too in this connection. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is said to be pitching Kumar’s candidature as the joint Opposition nominee. Ram Nath may just brighten Meira’s chances. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad has said that the Opposition will take a call in a June 22 meeting. Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party will take a call only after the Opposition announces its candidate. The Communist Party of India (CPI) has already said that the Opposition should put forward its candidate.
In fact, BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani’s name was doing the rounds in media circles till BJP chief Amit Shah made the formal announcement. Advani was the only personality who could have split the Opposition ranks owing to his stature.
Ram Nath Kovind is, indeed, a Dalit. He is hardly known outside and even inside the BJP circle. He, on his own, will carry no weight. Modi and his bandwagon will have to resort to hardsell now while Advani could have managed lots of Opposition votes by himself.
In fact, a senior AAP leader told National Herald that the only significant thing, Kovind has done in his career, was carrying out a signature campaign in favour of Bangaru Laxman after the latter was exposed by Tehelka in a bribery case. This goes to show the respect and clout that Kovind commands.
Well, the BJP has made the first move by announcing a Dalit as the NDA’s presidential nominee and given the presidential race a caste twist. The Opposition may now not shy away from accepting the challenge on those lines.
It makes Meira Kumar the ideal Opposition candidate to take on NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind in the race for the country’s top job.
(With inputs from S Khurram Raza)