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Mainstream, VOL LV No 27 New Delhi June 24, 2017

Ideological Struggle in Presidential Poll

Saturday 24 June 2017, by SC


As we go to press, it has become clear that the country will face yet another presidential election next month. The Opposition parties, as many as 17 of them, decided today to put up, by rare consensus, a Dalit candidate of eminence, Ms Meira Kumar, for the presidential poll against the current Bihar Governor, Ram Nath Kovind, a non-Jatav Dalit, who the BJP had nominated for the post last Monday (June 19) as the ruling NDA’s candidate. So is this a Dalit-versus-Dalit contest for the country’s highest office? CPI leader D. Raja, himself an outspoken Dalit, refutes the very idea and asserts: “It’s an ideological fight now.” He and all the parties backing Ms Kumar are of the unequivocal view that it is a battle for the idea of India with which secularism and democracy are intimately linked.

Kovind belongs to the RSS and headed the BJP’s Scheduled Caste Morcha. But he did not side with the Dalits who are at the receiving end under the present dispensation at the Centre. So Kovind’s nomination was a symbolic affair as far the BJP is concerned.

Not just that. Kovind, being opposed to reservation for religious minorities as any loyal RSS activist would be, was reported to have stated in 2010 that “Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation”. Later his supporters said he was misquoted as he used the word “notion” instead of “nation”!

There has been one surprise, however. The BJP has been able to garner support for Kovind’s candidature not merely from the fence-sitters as expected, but also a political figure in the Opposition of the calibre of Bihar CM and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar who himself was only recently engaged in putting up a joint Opposition candidate against that of the BJP. Amazingly, Nitish has extended support to Kovind even before the Opposition picked up its candidate. Why? Is it because of the Bihar CM’s smooth formal relationship with the State Governor (who hails from UP)? No. Nitish has done so in order not to further alienate the Mahadalits, to which Kovind’s community belongs, after his open tussle with Jitan Ram Manjhi, a Mushahar, that forced him to pay quite a price. This, of course, does not mean, as some observers are speculating, that Nitish is planning to return to the NDA fold. Several JD(U) leaders, meanwhile, have categorically affirmed that the Bihar State Government, based on the JD(U)-RJD-Congress mahagathbandhan, is and will remain intact.

However, despite all talk to the contrary, the Opposition is united. Even NCP stalwart Sharad Pawar is on board. And Laloo Prasad has promised to appeal to Nitish not to commit a “historic blunder” and instead return to the Opposition camp after weighing all the pros and cons.

It is indeed an ideological struggle in the battleground of the presidential election. No amount of false propaganda can conceal this truth.

June 22 s.c.

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