Will Ram Nath Kovind be the Ambedkar of the modern times? Or, will he become a slayer of opposition unity?
Ram Nath Kovind – The Man of the Moment
For Mr. Kovind, the next President of India, it has been quite an uneventful journey from Kanpur Dehat to the Raisina Hills. Nobody knew about him until yesterday when the BJP President, Amit Shah announced his candidature for the presidential polls. Yesterday, I was surprised to see his wiki bio get updated immediately as soon as his name was announced. Finally, he was no more anonymous, he had become the subject of heated debates across India.
Perhaps Mr. Ram Nath Kovind knew about his impending candidature beforehand. However, he has played his cards well till now and will need all his persuasive skills to convince the opposition leaders to sail through.
‘Did not know about him’
Mr. Kovind’s ‘anonymity’ is a cause of concern for some opposition leaders. The TMC leader, Mamata Banerjee told the media that she does not know much about Mr. Ram Nath Kovind. This is surprising because he is the Governor of her neighboring state, Bihar. Perhaps, Ms. Banerjee is hinting that she would support a person who is more visible in the political circles than Mr. Kovind.
Ms. Banerjee is not alone. Some respectable political commentators have taunted the BJP for nominating Mr. Kovind whom very few people in Delhi know about. Mr. Shekhar Gupta , in a tweet, even compared him with Pratibha Patil, an ex-President of India. He probably thinks that one should wine and dine with ‘Lutyen’s Media’ in order to qualify for a top post.
Unfortunately for Mr. Gupta, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind miserably fails to get that kind of qualification.
Kovind Ji is a native of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and did his schooling, college, and university from that state. While researching about him, I found out that he had also cleared the Civil Services exam twice! He declined the government job because the role did not excite him enough. Now isn’t that something interesting about him, I mean how many Indians can clear this prestigious exam?
Like many other poor young boys, Ram Nath Kovind too had to fight against major odds to complete his education. The young Kovind had to study under streetlights to complete his chapters. His school was 4 miles away, mercifully.
The rest, as we know is history. He ultimately became a lawyer and represented the Central Government in various cases. Mr. Kovind’s gentle nature and non-controversial life helped him get a foothold in the hurly-burly of politics when he joined the Bhartiya Janata Party in the early 1990s. The BJP, at that time, was still trying to find its feet in the aftermath of the Mandal agitation. The country’s politics was dominated by the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad, V.P Singh, Chandrashekhar and Sharad Yadav.
Champion of the downtrodden
Mr. Ram Nath Kovid perhaps is a shrewd political observer. He could have joined the Janata Dal in early 1990s or even the Congress. The BJP was at best a distant number 3 in the political arena. The youth of the country was dissatisfied by the Congress and was shifting toward the Janata Dal. This set of voters was divided into caste lines too. It was fashionable, during those times, to be a V.P Singh supporter.
Yet, Mr. Kovind chose to join the BJP. Did he sense that the party had a depth which was largely unmeasured by the rest of the political class? I think that is indeed was the case. Nevertheless, he did some noticeable work in the party by lending his voice -and the party’s too- to the voice of the weaker sections of the country.
His 24 -year stint in the party did not go waste for he was appointed the Bihar Governor in 2014. Many political observers say that this role came to him because of his soft-spoken nature. Mr. Modi did not want someone adversarial in that role as he wanted to keep the party’s options open in Bihar.
So far, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind has worked as a good Governor. He has worked according to rules and has largely cooperated with the Bihar Government. Mr. Kovind has steered clear of controversy in his role.
UP in sight
But, seriously, is Mr. Kovind right for the role? Many political commentators are asking this question these days. As a watcher of Delhi politics, I am amused by this question. One doesn’t have to be politically savvy to become the President of India. He or she should have good knowledge of the law in order to stand for this role. Didn’t we have APJ Abdul Kalam and KR Narayan as Presidents? One of them was a technocrat, while the other was a career bureaucrat.
So, why is this question dogging the Indian media?
I think that many political commentators were expecting that either Mr. Advani or Mr. Murli Manohar Joshi would be elevated to Presidency. But, now it seems Mr. Kovind made it to the cut keeping in mind the impending 2019 Lok Sabha polls. By elevating him to this chair, the party expects to consolidate its backward caste vote in UP during the next Lok Sabha polls.
Advani and Joshi are now very old and cannot take up the role of the Indian President. The Indian President has to be very alert to political developments. He or she is also expected to travel widely, domestically as well as internationally to cement bilateral ties.
Opposition in disarray
By nominating Mr. Ramnath Kovind, the BJP has put the opposition on the defensive. A few days back, the entire opposition wanted that the BJP declare its Presidential candidate. The ruling party, however, wanted the opposition to name a consensus candidate. It seems the opposition parties wanted to force the BJP to name a few candidates that would put the party on the backfoot. But, these parties did not quite guess what the party was up to. For them, Advani and Joshi were trump cards that could be used to discomfit the BJP.
However, by naming Mr. Kovid, the tables have been turned for the opposition. Since he comes from the backward community, many opposition parties are finding it difficult to oppose him. They fear that by opposing him, these parties will lose a lot of votes in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere. Congress does not know what to do and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party is at its wit’s end. Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) has said that his party will support Mr. Kovind in his candidature. Eternal foes, the Communists and the TMC, have vowed to oppose the BJP in the Presidential Polls.
The BJP has never had it so easy in the recent years; for the first time in its history, the party is aiming to have its own President in the Raisina Hills.
However, the party still wants as many parties to support Mr. Kovind’s candidature as is possible.
The SP-BSP confusion
Even as I write this article, I am overjoyed at the confusion within the ranks of the two principal oppositions parties in UP-the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party. Both these parties have decided to attend the dinner organized by the UP Chief Minister on June 20, 2017. By accepting the invitation to this dinner, these parties have signaled their willingness to support Mr. Kovind.
Congress in a turmoil
Not surprisingly, the Congress is again in a state of confusion. Its top functionary, Rahul Gandhi is not in the country and is away holidaying. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is not physically well and can only make limited attempts to cobble the rest of the opposition together. The main allies of the Congress like the JD-U and RJD do not see eye to eye on this issue. In short, there are very few limited options before the Congress. If it decides to support Mr. Kovid, then it will lose its leadership status. On the other hand, opposing Mr. Ram Nath Kovind will jeopardize the party’s moves towards its revival.
Kovind as Ambedkar?
Would Mr. Ram Nath Kovind become the Ambedkar for the BJP? It is now near certain that he will become the next President of India. Once elected, would Mr. Kovind gently push the BJP to more friendly to the backward sections of the country? Or, would he choose to be a silent spectator to whatever that will be going around him? It is for him to decide what he will do with the Presidency.