BJP plays Dalit card for Presidential polls

Chooses Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as NDA's candidate; he could become the country's second Dalit president; not all opposition parties agree

Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, NDA's presidential candidate, waves at the media as he leaves for Delhi. PIC/PTI
Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, NDA's presidential candidate, waves at the media as he leaves for Delhi. PIC/PTI

India is set to get its second Dalit president as the BJP yesterday 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.

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 got in touch with their allies.

Parties say
The Congress spurned the BJP's appeal for consensus on its choice for President. The BJP had taken a "unilateral decision", Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said soon after the announcement of Kovind as the NDA's candidate for president.

"Congress does not want to comment on this issue as we want to take a unanimous decision with all other opposition parties on the presidential elections. The final call will be taken in a meeting of all opposition parties on June 22," Azad told reporters.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath asked opposition parties to rise above party politics and support Kovind for the post of President. "It is a new social awakening that a Dalit has been selected for the top most constitutional post of the country for which I want to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah on behalf of the people of the state," the chief minister stressed.

'Because of Dalit Morcha'
Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee claimed that the Bihar Governor was nominated only because he had been a leader of the BJP's Dalit Morcha in the past.
"The office of President is a key post. Someone of the stature of Pranab Mukherjee or even Sushma Swaraj or (L K) Advaniji may have been made the candidate.

"In order to support someone, we must know the person. The candidate should be someone who would be beneficial for the country. The opposition will meet on June 22, only after that can we announce our decision," the West Bengal chief minister said.

The man who could be President
Kanpur-born former lawyer Ram Nath Kovind (71), a Dalit leader, is known for his organisational skills and is a loyal member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Kovind, who could well be India's 14th president, is married and has a son and a daughter.

A commerce graduate who also studied law at Kanpur University, he practised in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court. He was also the Central government's standing counsel in the apex court from 1980-93. Kovind, who headed Dalit Morcha from 1998 to 2002, also led the All-India Koli Samaj. Elected to the Rajya Sabha in April 1994 from Uttar Pradesh, he served two consecutive terms till March 2006.

Kovind took the lead in providing free legal aid to weaker sections, especially the SC/ST women, and poor and needy girls under the aegis of the Free Legal Aid Society in Delhi. Known for his work in education, he served as a member on the board of management of the Dr BR Ambedkar University, Lucknow, and was a member of the board of governors of the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata.

22 june The opposition meet regarding the Presidential polls

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