India's Ruling Party Picks Dalit Leader For Presidential Polls

NEW DELHI (Alliance News) - India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday named state ...

Alliance News 19 June, 2017 | 1:17PM
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NEW DELHI (Alliance News) - India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday named state governor and Dalit leader Ram Nath Kovind as its nominee for the presidential polls, a move seen as part of the party's outreach towards the country's downtrodden castes.

Kovind, 71, currently governor of the eastern state of Bihar, is a long-time BJP politician who belongs to the low-caste Dalit community.

A lawyer by profession and a two-time parliamentarian, Kovind has previously headed the Dalit wing of the Hindu nationalist party.

BJP chief Amit Shah announced the party's choice for the country's highest constitutional post following a meeting of the party's parliamentary board in New Delhi.

"Mr Kovind, a farmer's son, comes from a humble background. He devoted his life to public service," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.

"I am sure Mr Kovind will make an exceptional President and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalized," Modi added.

The president, who has a largely ceremonial role, is chosen by an electoral college which comprises federal and state lawmakers.

Polls to elect the country's 14th president are to be held on July 17. The results are expected on July 20.

Kovind is likely to be India's next president as the BJP and its allies are positioned to win the election and his candidature is also winning support from regional parties.

The opposition United Progressive Alliance, led by the Indian National Congress, has not yet finalized its nominee.

Kovind's candidature is being seen as a political masterstroke as it is likely to help the BJP warm up to the Dalits as opposition parties have been targeting the ruling party for its neglect of the communities.

Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, are at the lowest rank in India's caste system. They form about 16% of India's 1.25 billion population. Despite decades of affirmative action, a majority of Dalits still work as manual labourers and sweepers and face discrimination borne of caste bias.

Kovind's candidature came as a surprise as his name did not figure in the probables speculated in the Indian media.

A low-key politician, Kovind, was born on October 1, 1945, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. After completing his commerce and law degrees, he served as a government lawyer in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court.

Kovind's political journey began in April 1994, when he was elected as an MP in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the parliament, for two consecutive terms.

Kovind, appointed to the post of Bihar governor in 2015, is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, a right-wing parent organization of the BJP.

If elected, Kovind will become India's second president belonging to the Dalit community. KR Narayanan, president between 1997-2002, was the first member of the Dalit community to hold the post.

While BJP leaders expressed hope there would be a consensus on Kovind's name, which would obviate the need for an election, Congress leaders said a meeting of opposition would decide on the issue on Thursday.

The five-year term of incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee, a former finance minister and veteran leader from Congress, ends on July 24.

By Siddhartha Kumar

Copyright dpa

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