Opposition underscores efficacy of Modi-Shah presidential pick
Unlike the BSP chief, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, which counts Muslims among its key supporters, reacted more cautiously to the BJP’s announcement.
Trust the present-day Opposition to lose a contest even if there is none. It was a given that the Bharatiya Janata Party would be able to install its nominee in Rashtrapati Bhavan in the upcoming presidential election, regardless of whether the Opposition chose to field a candidate. But most of the opposition parties managed to lay bare their vulnerabilities and suffer a psychological defeat as well with their initial reactions to the BJP’s choice of Ram Nath Kovind for the essentially ceremonial role of head of state.
In the process, the Opposition ensured that the BJP’s pick, or more precisely that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, would serve the party’s strategic purpose of being seen to be reaching out to the sizeable and marginalised Dalit community without venturing out of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh fold.
Kovind won’t be the first Dalit to become President of India if he wins what is likely to be a walkover on July 17. Neither is he the first to prompt many people to turn to Wikipedia to elicit even the basic information about him. KR Narayanan beat him on the first count and Pratibha Patil on the second.
What is perhaps significant is that he will be the first RSS member to occupy the top constitutional post. Yet, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, who made an allout bid to woo Muslim voters in the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year and has the most to lose from the BJP’s Dalit outreach as well, failed to look beyond Kovind’s identity as a Dalit from her home state. She said in her first reaction to the announcement of his name as a candidate of the BJPled National Democratic Alliance that her party’s stand would be positive unless the opposition fields a Dalit as well.
Mayawati’s comments came less than three months after she slammed the BJP for taking UP’s Dalits for a ride while anointing Yogi Adityanath, a Thakur, as the chief minister after storming to power in the state. The appointment of Keshav Prasad Maurya as a deputy chief minister, she said at the time, was merely cosmetic since he would enjoy even less power than a regular minister.
By naming Kovind as its presidential candidate, then, the BJP seems to have made up to the Dalits of UP, the recent Thakur-Dalit clashes in Saharanpur notwithstanding, and come a long, long way from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s suggestion in 2015 of a review of the reservation policy that was said to have contributed to the party’s debacle in the Bihar assembly election. His elevation will serve as a neatly framed thank you card to the community that helped it win the landslide victory in the country’s most populous state.
Unlike the BSP chief, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, which counts Muslims among its key supporters, reacted more cautiously to the BJP’s announcement. However, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who had severed his Janata Dal (United) party’s ties with the BJP in order to safeguard his support among Muslims after Modi was named the prime ministerial candidate but has lately been expending more energy in taming his comradeturned-foe-turned-partner Lalu Prasad, was quick to welcome Kovind’s candidature.
The Congress refused to comment on Kovind but criticised the lack of efforts on the BJP’s part to build consensus on its presidential candidate. The Shiv Sena, the second biggest constituent of the NDA, spoke out unequivocally against the BJP, which it said was eyeing Dalit votes with its choice.
The Left leaders, on their part, articulated the importance of putting up an Opposition candidate even if he or she were sure to lose. Largely, however, the reactions suggest that so far as the political parties are concerned, caste trumps ideology and the accident of birth is more important than conscious affiliation and other attributes of an individual. Or that is how these parties expect the public to relate to individuals.
Thanks to the Opposition the apparent symbolism of the BJP’s presidential pick appears to have acquired substance.