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Will Ramnath Kovind Set An Example As Next President Of India?

Kovind is set to become the next President, but his term as a party spokesperson, as well as an MP in the Rajya Sabha (for two terms) was uneventful

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After Ram Nath Kovind’s name was finalised as the NDA presidential candidate, a Facebook post is going viral. The post, more of a reporter’s diary, shares the experience of a BJP reporter at the party headquarters when Nitin Gadkari was the party president (in 2010).

TV Reporters used to frequent the party office, and Kovind’s was a constant presence at the headquarters. He was among the designated party spokespersons, along with the likes of Ravi Shankar Prasad, Rajeev Pratap Rudy and Prakash Javadekar.

The reporters, however, would wait for Prasad, Rudy or Javadekar for bytes. And, Kovind, a Dalit, rarely made the cut. Kovind never figured among those invited to primetime TV debates.

Kovind is set to become the next President, but his term as a party spokesperson, as well as an MP in the Rajya Sabha (for two terms) was uneventful. The BJP, at one point, thought of fielding Kovind, a Koli, as an answer to BSP’s Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. But nothing much came out of it.

The high point in Kovind’s career has been his stint as Bihar Governor. A trained lawyer, who understands the Constitution and statecraft, Kovind functioned as a copybook Governor, resisting the temptation to lock horns with a democratically elected Opposition government.

The announcement of Kovind’s name was in keeping with PM Narendra Modi’s style — he made M.L. Khattar the chief minister of Haryana when not many had heard of him.

The Opposition has fielded Congress’s Meira Kumar in this token fight. Kumar, also a Dalit leader, and a former IFS officer, belongs to the privileged elites’ category.

While Kovind and Kumar are as different as chalk and cheese, there are a lot of similarities as well. Both of them fitted neatly into their respective party systems. Neither was the quintessential rebel. Their critics argue — “how can you take on the system without being rebels?”

Mayawati rebelled against the established social order and took forward Kanshi Ram’s legacy. The newer Dalit outfits — whether it’s Chandrashekhar’s Bhim Army in Uttar Pradesh, or Jignesh Mewani’s movement in Gujarat — are essentially assertions against the dominant social order.

On the other hand, neither Kovind nor Kumar has led any popular Dalit movement.

Dalit scholars argue that mainstream parties like the BJP and the Congress can only have limited space for any Dalit leadership. A Kovind here and a Kumar there is the best that they can produce.

Unlike Kumar, however, Kovind comes from a humble background. He says he ceased to be part of the party system the day he became the Governor of Bihar. If he manages to set an example as the next President — like he did as a non-partisan Governor – he would have proved a lot of naysayers wrong.