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Ram Nath Kovind as presidential candidate: How BJP continues to aggressively woo Dalits

19 June, 2017 12:48 PM
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By nominating Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as its candidate for the July 17 presidential election, BJP has once again proved that it has been aggressively wooing the Dalits. Kovind, who was president of BJP's Scheduled Caste (SC) Cell from 1998 to 2002, is a Dalit.

Fielding Ram Nath Kovind, from Uttar Pradesh, as the presidential candidate is a continuation of BJP's strategy to woo the Dalits. The ruling party has sought to convey two messages by nominating Kovind - thank the Dalit community for their support and tell them that they are genuinely concerned about their welfare.

As a Rajya Sabha MP, Kovind was member of Parliamentary Committee for SC/ST Welfare. He was also a member of Management Board for Dr BR Ambedkar University, Lucknow.

If he wins, Kovind would be only the second Dalit president after KR Narayanan who had been elevated from the post of vice president in 1997.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have been continuously seeking to garner the support of the Dalits. They have also been successful in their attempt. BJP twice upset the Mayawati-led BSP's applecart - first in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and subsequently in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections held earlier this year.

In UP, BJP won a massive 71 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats and 312 of 403 in the Assembly. Dalits constitute about 17 per cent of the highest populous state in the country.

Promoting Kovind as the president seems to be the best bet if the party has to bank upon the Dalits for 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the forthcoming Assembly polls, such as in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka - in the next couple of years.

BJP has been attaching immense importance to all symbols associated with Dalits. For instance, it has been observing Dalit icon Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar's birth and death anniversaries with utmost sincerity. On his 126th birth anniversary this year, PM Modi visited Nagpur and inaugurated a series of development projects.

Nagpur is closely associated with Ambedkar as it was in this city the country's first law minister had reverted to Buddhism with approximately 600,000 followers on October 14, 1956, which was Ashok Vijaya Dashami. "We are unwavering in our efforts towards creating a strong, prosperous and inclusive India of Ambedkar's dreams. Jai Bhim," Modi had said.

Last year on the same day, Modi had visited Mhow near Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Mhow is the birthplace of Ambedkar. Modi had addressed a rally at Mhow.

Narendra Modi has also been seen regularly interacting with the Dalits. On April 20, 2015, Modi had laid the foundation stone of Dr Ambedkar International Centre at Janpath in the capital. On November 14, 2015, he inaugurated BR Ambedkar Memorial in London.

The Maharashtra government is transforming the building where Ambedkar lived in London into an international memorial-cum-research centre. Parliament had observed Constitution Day on November 26, 2015 during the Winter Session and a special discussion was held on Ambedkar.

On December 6, 2015, the Prime Minister released two commemorative coins, as part of the 125th Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations. The coins, of Rs 10 and Rs 125 denomination, were issued on the Mahaparinirvan Divas (death anniversary) of Ambedkar.

On March 21, 2016, Modi had laid the foundation stone for a memorial of Ambedkar in New Delhi, which will cover the important aspects of his life.

The BJP chief has also been playing his part to win over the Dalits. On May 30, 2016, Shah ate a meal with Girjaprasad Bind and Ikbal Bind's family, who belong to the Dalit community, in Jogiyapur village in Sevapuri Assembly segment of UP. Jogiyapur falls under PM Narendra Modi's Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi.

Earlier in the same month, the BJP president had taken a holy dip along with saints, retired bureaucrats and police officials, mostly from the Dalit community, as part of "Samrasta Snan (a holy bath for social harmony)" at Valmiki ghat of Kshipra river during Simhastha in Ujjain.

This was followed by Shah felicitating the saints and having a community meal with them. With symbolism galore, Valmiki is identified with the Dalit author who had written the Ramayana and it is also a Dalit community in several parts of the country.

BJP's consistent efforts seem to be helping it wean away the Dalits from BSP and Congress. Despite campaigns by the Opposition to discredit BJP over issues - such as thrashing of Dalits by cow vigilantes in Gujarat and alleged suicide of Hyderabad University scholar Rohith Vemula, supposedly belonging to the SC category - the people of this community voted for the party in UP.

It had got a jolt in Bihar. Just before the state Assembly elections in 2015, JD (U) and RJD had highlighted RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's statement on reservation. They sought to convey to the voters that BJP was against reservation and would do away with it. This was one of the reasons for BJP-led NDA's defeat.

Nominating Ram Nath Govind is also an attempt to put a lid on such controversies.


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