The BJP today named Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA’s candidate for the post of President. With the electoral college stashed heavily in favour of the NDA, it will be a smooth trek up Raisina Hill for Kovind to succeed the incumbent Pranab Mukherjee whose term ends on July 25.
Kovind, who belongs to Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, is a lawyer by training and was elected twice to the Rajya Sabha and is currently the Governor of Bihar. He will be the second Dalit to become the occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the first being President KR Narayanan. He was an academic and a diplomat and far from a dyed in the wool politician, but learnt the ways of Lutyens Delhi during his stint as a minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government.
The decision to nominate Kovind is part of a major Dalit outreach by the BJP and is expected to help it to consolidate its growing support among non-Jatav Dalits in the politically crucial Hindi heartland. The choice is also a masterstroke that could create complications for the BSP and the Samajwadi Party as opposing him could prove to be politically costly. That it had the intended effect was clear when Mayawati was compelled to admit that her party cannot oppose a Dalit's bid to become the President. Mayawati’s party, whose tally was reduced to mere 19 MLAs in recently concluded Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, has six seats in Rajya Sabha. The BSP supremo is herself an Upper House MP. “As he is a Dalit we are positive on his name, but only if opposition doesn’t announce a popular Dalit name," Mayawati said.
The decision to nominate Kovind opens a window for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to break away from the so called anti-BJP grouping to support the NDA nominee. In fact, Nitish was among the first to congratulate Kovind as he visited Raj Bhavan to convey his best wishes to NDA nominee.
It was known for long that the BJP was keen to have a Dalit as the next President. It had toyed with the idea of projecting Union Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot for the post. But considerations of realpolitik – Kovind belongs to politically crucial UP where the BJP has managed to break the hold of identity-based parties – appears to have prompted the prime minister to opt for the Bihar governor rather the union minister who hails from Rajasthan.
Shri Ram Nath Kovind, a farmer's son, comes from a humble background. He devoted his life to public service & worked for poor & marginalised— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 19, 2017
With his illustrious background in the legal arena, Shri Kovind's knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 19, 2017
I am sure Shri Ram Nath Kovind will make an exceptional President & continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden & marginalised.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 19, 2017
BJP President Amit Shah, who announced the candidature of Kovind, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had talked with Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the NDA’s decision. “Now they will decide among themselves and decide,” Shah told reporters.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Modi had chaired a meeting of the BJP’s parliamentary board to discuss the issue. The election is expected to be smooth sailing for the BJP as several non-NDA parties have already pledged their support to the prime minister’s choice for the post. Among those from the non-NDA side backing the NDA’s candidate include the TRS and Jagan Mohan’s YSR Congress. In a major boost for the NDA, 50 MPs belonging to the AIADMK have also pledged their support to the NDA nominee.
For the Congress, which was looking at the impending Presidential elections to stitch a rainbow coalition of anti—BJP forces, Kovind’s selection is a true dampener. The move had already lost much of its steam when Sharad Pawar, who was approached by the Congress to lead a committee to decide on anti-NDA platform’s presidential candidate, publicly asserted that it was an exercise futility and announced that the NCP’s support was for whoever the prime minister chose for the post.