Ram Nath Kovind: A lawyer and BJP’s Dalit face from Uttar Pradesh

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New Delhi: That the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) presidential nominee was going to be a surprise was a given. But no one imagined the extent to which it would surprise.

The announcement of Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind as the party’s candidate had many scurrying for information on the man. The 71-year-old has served as a two-time Rajya Sabha MP in the past (from 1994 to 2006). He was appointed governor of Bihar in August 2015 and has also served as president of the BJP Dalit Morcha. A lawyer by profession, Kovind belongs to Kanpur. He was a central government advocate in Delhi high court for two years from 1977 to 1979 and central government standing counsel in the Supreme Court from 1980 to 1993.

Kovind’s appointment as Bihar governor was done without any consultation with the state government or the chief minister. The Telegraph quoted state assembly speaker Vijay Chaudhary as saying: “…the Centre did not inform the chief minister about the new appointment. Nitish (Kumar) heard of it from the media. The Centre is not following constitutional norms.”

This time around, Kovind’s name was discussed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before the announcement by the party.

“Sonia Gandhi said she will hold talks on Kovind’s name and will let us know the decision after that,” BJP president Amit Shah said at a press conference where the nomination was announced.

Kovind has had a long political career but not one that brought him into the public eye.

In Patna the view about him remains middling at best with a political scientist saying his handling of the appointments of vice-chancellors to the state’s universities doesn’t inspire much confidence. “Several offices fell vacant on 31 January this year but appointments were not made till March. He has been a very non-intervening governor till now. He has not demonstrated or done anything which can openly be construed as a political stand,” said N.K. Choudhary of Patna University.

Kovind is reportedly close to home minister Rajnath Singh and campaigned for the BJP in the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly election.

There is no denying that Kovind’s nomination is a move made with one eye on the Dalit community. But for many it may not go beyond mere tokenism. According to Vivek Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, BJP has neither effective nor functional representatives of Dalits in either the party or the government, unlike the Congress. “There is not one effective voice from top to bottom…and now you propose a name for the President’s office. It is a ceremonial office. We have seen nominal representation of Dalit causes for namesake through attempts like Bhim App etc. and now this is another step.”

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