Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will be the presidential candidate of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and in all likelihood the next President of India.
The BJP Parliamentary Board decided Kovind's candidature at its meeting on Monday. Kovind is widely respected among political circles for his integrity and people remember his family to have led an abstemious lifestyle during his political career, including when he was a Rajya Sabha member from 1994 to 2006.
The BJP-led NDA has 48.6 per cent votes in the electoral college and has been promised support from regional parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, YSR Congress Party, and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
BJP chief Amit Shah said his party has informed Opposition parties, including the Congress, about its decision. He said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh regarding the matter too. Shah expressed hope that other parties will support the NDA candidate. Kovind's name was a surprise to most, including those within the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who had been insisting that somebody with a Hindutva image be the NDA candidate. In the choice of Kovind, Modi and Shah seem to have outmanoeuvred not just the Opposition but also convinced the RSS leadership.
Given the political symbolism, several in the Opposition might find it difficult to oppose Kovind’s candidature. While the Left parties are set to field their own candidate as they consider this an ideological fight with the Sangh Parivar, many others like the Janata Dal (United) and Bahujan Samaj Party might not find it politically sagacious to oppose Kovind. Both parties have a significant Dalit support base. Other parties were yet to make their position public at the time of filing of this report. It would be very difficult even for the Congress to oppose his candidature.
The BJP’s choice of Kovind comes at a time when Dalit groups have protested in Uttar Pradesh against the Yogi Adityanath government and raised their voice about the increasing atrocities against Dalits by upper castes and cow vigilantes. Selecting Kovind should help the BJP’s efforts at consolidating its Dalit support base in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Kovind would become the second Dalit President of India, after KR Narayanan who served as the President from 1997 to 2002.
Shah said that Kovind will file his nomination on June 23. Kovind is a two-term Rajya Sabha member. His terms were from 1994 to 2000 and 2000 to 2006. Kovind is a lawyer by profession and he hails from the Kanpur rural district. "He is from the Dalit community and from humble beginnings he has struggled to reach a high office," Shah said. He said the NDA is yet to decide upon its vice-presidential candidate.
Who is Ram Nath Kovind
Kovind was born in village Paraunkh in district Kanpur Dehat, Uttar Pradesh, on October 1, 1945. He earned his Bachelor of Commerce degree, followed by his LLB degree, from Kanpur’s BNSD Intercollege and DAV College.
While his parents were farmers, Kovind studied to become a lawyer. He also cleared the Indian Administrative Service exams.
He has one son and one daughter.
Kovind was the general secretary of the All India Koli Samaj from 1971 to 1975. He was the Union government advocate in the Delhi High Court from 1977 to 1979 and the central government advocate in Delhi High Court from 1982 to 1984. He was the general secretary of the Depressed Classes Legal Aid Bureau.
Kovind worked as Morarji Desai's private secretary when the latter was the prime minister from 1977 to 79.
In 1994, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha. In 1997, he was inducted in the BJP’s national executive. His second Rajya Sabha term was from 2000 to 2006.
Kovind represented India in the United Nations in New York and addressed the United Nations General Assembly in October 2002.
He has also served as a member of several parliamentary committees, including the Parliamentary Committee on Welfare of Scheduled Castes/Tribes and the Parliamentary Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment.
Kovind has also served on the Board of Governors of the Indian Institute of Management.
The Narendra Modi government made him the Governor of Bihar in 2015.