NEW DELHI: Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind, a known Dalit figure in BJP circles, is set to take over as the 14th President after the incumbent Pranab Mukherjee retires on July 24. Kovind, 71, will be the second Dalit, after the late K R Narayanan, to be President, and the first one from UP.
A former chief of BJP's Dalit Morcha who was twice nominated to the Rajya Sabha before being appointed governor of Bihar after Narendra Modi's victory in 2014, Kovind is a perfect fit for the Dalit outreach that Prime Minister Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah and the RSS leadership have been working on to expand the party's social base.
BJP reckons that his ascension will help it improve its standing among Scheduled Castes.
The party also believes his social background will fetch him support from quarters outside NDA, besides making things difficult for the opposition. So is the fact that he comes from UP, which sends 80 MPs to Lok Sabha.
The confidence that he will be a copybook President, sparing the government any headache in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, was, sources said, another consideration in play.
A non-controversial person and a respecter of protocol, Kovind, who was praised by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar for playing by the book, is expected to have a good relationship with the government.
Though Congress, Left, Trinamool and some others refused to endorse him and are planning not to give BJP a walkover, Kovind's selection looks like a foregone conclusion.
BJP, along with its NDA partners, is a fraction short of the majority mark in the electoral college comprising elected members of the two Houses of Parliament and state assemblies.
But the support of regional parties like TRS of Telengana, YSR Congress, Biju Janata Dal and AIADMK has put it in an unassailable position.
There are indications that the NDA might garner further support in the build-up to the poll scheduled for July 17 with players like NCP not appearing as enthusiastic as Congress, Left and RJD to put up a "symbolic fight" against the BJP candidate.
Soon after Kovind's name was announced by party chief Amit Shah, Modi took to Twitter to praise the NDA's pick. "I am sure Ram Nath Kovind will make an exceptional President and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised.
With his illustrious background in the legal arena, Kovind's knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation," he said.
Kovind, a farmer's son, comes from a humble background. He devoted his life to public service and worked for the poor and marginalised," the PM added. If he didn't focus on Kovind's Dalit identity, it was very much on the table.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting of the parliamentary board, Shah said Kovind had always espoused the cause of underprivileged sections of society, and had a long career working for Dalits and oppressed groups.
"Dalit aur picchhde vargon ke liye hamesha sangharsh karte rahe hain Ram Nath Kovindji," Shah said. He also sought to counter the criticism that BJP had made the choice unilaterally.
"The PM himself has spoken to Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Everyone has been informed of this decision," he said.
Kovind is a Kori, a community present in significant numbers in the area extending from Kanpur to Bundelkhand and, unlike the pro-BSP Jatavs, not hostile to BJP.