Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have delivered a political masterstroke in choosing Ram Nath Kovind as the party’s candidate for the next Presidential polls in the country.
Kovind is a Dalit (low caste), the Indian social underclass, but someone who has been active in the BJP’s lower caste outreach in UP for three decades.
Coming from a low caste farmer family, Kovind’s choice will help project BJP as sympathetic to the cause of rural poor at a time it is beset with farmer agitation across its strongholds in Madhaya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharastra.
It will also endear BJP to the lower castes not only in UP but across northern India.
Lower caste leaders like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and UP’s former chief minister like Mayawati have instantly welcomed Kovind’s choice – which means the Modi-Shah combine has divided the Opposition in one bold stroke.
Not only can the BJP now count on support of many lower caste parties and blocks to ensure Kovind’s victory, but also garner their support for the 2019 parliament elections by dividing the secular Opposition down the line.
Kovind is now governor of Bihar and has helped to bring Nitish Kumar and Modi closer after the two fell out over NDA’s prime minister choice (Nitish fell out with BJP, broke the coalition and joined with Laloo Yadav to trounce the BJP in state polls two years ago). If BJP manages to bring Nitish back to NDA fold, they have almost the entire Gangetic belt under control sans Bengal.
Kovind is a lawyer who has practiced in High Court and Supreme Court, worked as personal assistant to former Prime Minister Morarji Desai (was seen as RSS man in PMO during India’s first non-Congress government) and represented India at UN (addressed UNGA in 2002).
Modi has said Kovind will make ‘an outstanding President’, reflecting on his penchant of going by the rule book. That spares his government any headache.
But at the end of the day, the BJP-RSS are almost sure of having their man in the Rastrapati Bhavan, so important for clearing controversial legislations.
That only West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has struck a discordant note, saying “Kovind who”, indicates Modi-Shah combine has floored the Opposition with their choice.
“E Kake candidate korlo, chini na to ” (who is this candidate, I dont know him) said Mamata, perhaps upset because her effort to get the entire Opposition to back Pranab Mukherjee for a second term stands torpedoed.
Mayawati’s support is crucial because if the BJP manages to win her over, they will only add to their existing strength in UP, India’s most populous state.
If Mayawati joins the Samajwadi Party and Congress in a loose coalition, it could threaten the BJP ‘s chances in UP in the next parliament polls.
In 2014, BJP won 71 of the 84 parliament seats in UP. Without such a repeat performance, its chances of getting a majority by itself in Lok Sabha will be difficult.
“Modi and Shah has killed many birds with this shot, by choosing Kovind as a presidential candidate,” said political analyst Jayanta Ray.
Not the least, they have stifled dissent within the party.
The BJP leaders who were pushing for either L K Advani or foreign minister Sushma Swaraj as the party’s presidential candidate have been silenced.
“How can they oppose a Dalit candidate with such a background,” said Ray.
India’s vast underclass is a powerful votebank and Modi-Shah’s strategy to encash it for the 2019 parliament polls has just started unfolding.
The outcome of the President’s election is almost settled — the real battle for 2019 has begun with the maneuvers that might see Kovind occupying the Rastrapati Bhavan for the next five years.