Meira Kumar: From IFS officer to presidential election candidate

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New Delhi: It is a battle for the most prominent address in Delhi and it is being fought on grounds of symbolism.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stole a march over its opponents when it announced former Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind as its candidate for the presidential election. A Dalit, it would have been difficult for other parties to oppose his nomination given the caste calculations that form an integral part of Indian politics.

Now the opposition has announced its own candidate—Meira Kumar. Though a Dalit herself, the former Lok Sabha speaker’s antecedents could not be further removed from Kovind’s.

Daughter of prominent Dalit leader and former deputy prime minister Jagjivan Ram and freedom fighter Indrani Devi, Kumar studied at the prestigious Welham Girls School and is a Delhi University alumnus. She actually started her career with the Indian Foreign Service in 1973. But she joined active politics in 1985, a year before her father’s death, contesting from Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh.

Kumar has been a five-term MP, winning from her father’s constituency Sasaram in Bihar in 2004 and 2009. However, she too was swept away in the Modi wave of 2014, losing the seat. She has served twice as a Union minister but is better known as the first woman speaker of the Lok Sabha. Leaders across the political spectrum had supported her nomination.

Her stint as speaker was marked by a quiet firmness and dignity which often saw her bringing the House to order. A 2013 Wall Street Journal report stated that she had read Practice and Procedure of Parliament, a “4,000-plus page tome”, around 10 times. “In a place where everyone is so agitated, I think it would be very silly of me to lose my cool. Unless I am in control, I won’t be able to control others,” Kumar had said in an interview to the paper.

She has largely been untouched by controversy save for the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) decision to allot her a bungalow in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone to convert into a museum in memory of her father.

With over two decades of political experience and given her popularity as speaker, Kumar is a formidable opponent to Kovind. More importantly she has instant recall, something that eludes Kovind but then again is not a necessity for election as president. Former president Pratibha Patil too was an unknown entity when she was chosen by the UPA. The numbers are clearly in favour of Kovind as of now but at least Kumar’s nomination gives the opposition a respectable candidate to back.