The other NDA constituents have pledged their support to Mr Kovind.
New Delhi: Playing the dalit card, the BJP on Monday named Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind as its presidential candidate. A surprise pick, Mr Kovind could be the first President hailing from Uttar Pradesh, a state with the largest number of MPs and the highest number of Assembly constituencies. Mr Kovind’s name was also seen as part of the BJP’s gameplan for the crucial 2019 elections and a message to the dalit community, that is both electorally significant and numerically dominant.
The Opposition parties have, meanwhile, called a meeting on Thursday to take a final call on whether or not to fight the election, with the Congress, CPI(M) and Trinamul Congress calling Mr Kovind’s choice a “unilateral decision” by the BJP. The BJP-led NDA, however, seems to be in a comfortable position in the electoral college as some non-NDA outfits, including the Biju Janata Dal, TRS and YSRCP, have pledged support to its candidate. The BJP also hopes that Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK will also back its choice. The electoral college appears to be tilted toward the NDA despite ally Shiv Sena continuing the suspense over whether or not it would support Mr Kovind.
After Mr Kovind’s name was officially announced by BJP president Amit Shah after the party’s parliamentary board meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who also attended the meeting, tweeted: “Shri Ram Nath Kovind, a farmer’s son, comes from a humble background. He devoted his life to public service and worked for the poor and marginalised... With his illustrious background in the legal arena, Shri Kovind’s knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation... I am sure Shri Ram Nath Kovind will make an exceptional President and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised.” Mr Modi himself called Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and several chief ministers, including Bihar’s Nitish Kumar, Andhra CM N. Chandrababu Naidu, Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik and Tamil Nadu’s E. Palaniswami to seek their support for the NDA candidate.
Also, that the NDA nominee could dent the Opposition bloc’s unity was evident with JD(U) president and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar expressing his “personal happiness” over the NDA nominee, but he didn’t commit his party’s support to his candidature. Mr Kumar shares a good rapport with Mr Kovind as the state’s governor.
Stopping short of expressing her party’s support to Mr Kovind, BSP supremo Mayawati said her party could not be “negative” to a dalit candidate. Dalits are a major votebank in both UP and Bihar, and the BSP’s core base. However, the BJP’s own ally Shiv Sena continued the suspense over whether or not it would support Mr Kovind when Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray said that “a dalit face for the presidential elections is being used just for dalit votes. The Sena never does caste-based politics”.
The Sena said it would declare its stand on the matter on Tuesday. The other NDA constituents have pledged their support to Mr Kovind.
Interestingly, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD joined ranks with Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP and K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS to support the NDA nominee. The three non-NDA outfits had kept away from the deliberations of the Opposition bloc on the presidential election.
Mr Kovind reached New Delhi on Monday evening and is expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his first reaction, the NDA presidential nominee said: “It’s a duty, let’s take it as such.”
Announcing the NDA presidential nominee at the party headquarters, Mr Shah said: “He was born in a poor family, comes from the dalit community and has long struggled for the rights of the weaker sections. He has always been associated with the poor, backwards and dalits... I am hopeful that there will be a consensus on his name.”
Expressing her party’s reservation on the NDA nominee, Trinamul supremo Mamata Banerjee said Mr Kovind 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 could have been made the candidate,” Ms Banerjee said. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the BJP had “unilaterally” selected Mr Kovind and the non-NDA parties would take a decision “keeping in mind the country’s history that the ruling and Opposition parties have contested the polls on all occasions, except once”.
The BSP’s Mayawati said though Mr Kovind has been associated with the RSS and BJP from the beginning, “since he is a dalit, our party’s stand towards him cannot be negative. It will be positive, provided the Opposition parties do not field any dalit for the post who is more capable and popular than him”.