Is Ram Nath Kovind’s appointment as president expected to wash away the scars inflicted on the Dalit community?

Published: July 28, 2017
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President-elect Ram Nath Kovind. PHOTO: REUTERS

When Ram Nath Kovind and his family were denied entry into the presidential retreat in Shimla, little did he know that fate would end up making this same presidential retreat his summer abode.

Fast forward two months down the lane after this incident, the 71-year-old former lawyer and state governor was elected as India’s second Dalit president.

Before June 19th, the day the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) elected Kovind as its presidential candidate, nobody really knew the man that was running for the country’s highest constitutional post. His nomination not only surprised political watchers but also surprised the common man.

The only time Kovind came into the national spotlight was when he interrupted Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son, Tej Pratap Yadav, during his swearing-in ceremony and corrected him by saying,

“It is apekshit (expected), not upekshit (neglected).”

He even made the fumbling Yadav take the oath twice.

All eyes will be on him as he takes the onerous office as the 14th president of the largest democracy in the world.

Whatever the reason may be – political outreach, caste politics and/or strategic political compromise – the NDA’s decision to handpick Kovind as the head of state candidate, even though he hails from a Dalit (untouchables) background, is a huge step for India in more than one way.

Kovind is obviously Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) strategy to woo Dalits in order to bring them under one big Hindu umbrella. No wonder NDA has been promoting his past work towards Dalit upliftment. However, just because a Dalit is the head of the state doesn’t automatically mean the Dalit community will forgive and forget the disgusting episodes in Una and Saharanpur.

Is Kovind’s entry into the Rashtrapati Bhawan (president’s official home) expected to wash away the scars inflicted on the Dalit community? Is it supposed to make us forget the recent caste-related violence in Saharanpur, the public flogging of the Dalit youths in Una, and Rohith Vemula’s suicide? BJP should remind itself that electorates in India will not get distracted by such shiny baubles.

Besides, now that Kovind has been labelled as an uncontroversial figure, he won’t be an unthinking rubber stamp like his party wants him to be. Going by the records, he is expected to apply his mind before arriving at decisions just like the former Dalit President Kocheril Raman Narayanan.

The decision of nominating Kovind as a presidential candidate may or may not be a political masterstroke by Narendra Modi and his team, but for India to thrive as a democratic and secular nation, it surely is.

Since Kovind and the office of the president have largely been non-controversial, the nation is hopeful that he’ll keep the office of presidency above party politics.

Every Indian knows that a Dalit president does not have the power to emancipate the Dalit community and/or marginalised sections of society from discrimination and hatred. But there is still some hope that he can help in their on-going mobilisation of education and employment.

Kovind not only has enough administrative experience as a member of several parliamentary committees, but he also has vast experience of being in a constitutional post as the governor of Bihar.

As a professional lawyer, Kovind also provided free legal services to the weaker sections of society, especially the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) women and Economically Backward Classes’ (EBC) girls under the umbrella of the Free Legal Aid Society in Delhi.

Furthermore, these attributes of the president give us hope that despite his association with a party known for its upper caste leanings, he won’t act euphonious towards the uplifting of SC/ST and minorities only, but will also serve the remaining Indian citizens that are constantly ignored and overlooked.

Even though such proletarians are sneered at by some of the Lutyens’ intellectuals, they are role models and a source of empowerment for the majority.

Kovind is a man who can empathise with the common Indian since he has suffered the same hardships. The fact that a Dalit was elected by a unanimous vote illustrates how the common man identifies himself with the president and that is a big step for India. But associating him with his caste is an injustice to his national identity.

India is becoming increasingly intolerant towards it minorities, therefore I feel his election came at the correct time. His election may just put an end to the heinous acts of belligerence committed by right-wing fascists, including the brigade of gau rakshaks (cow protection vigilantes).

Kovind represents the true India. He represents the aam aadmi (common man), which constitutes the majority of India, agrarian, rural, socially and economically underprivileged.

Deepti Verma

Deepti Verma

The author is co-founder of NationalViews.com - an online portal for articulating opinions, views that needs national as well as global attention. She tweets @universal_rover

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sudhanshu Swami

    “party known for its upper caste leanings” ? This party made Dalit a President and Backward caste as PM ! and another backward caste Naidu as Vice President What kind of upper caste party this is !Recommend

  • Sudhanshu Swami

    When they were in power earlier, they made Muslim APJ kalam, president. They supported him second time too ! On the other hand recently (last 10 years ) Congress Elected Pranab mukharjee, a Brahmin, Pratibha patil shekhawat a Kshatriya,Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Real Upekshit in the world r the natives. Their native heros and literary giants r ignored. Kalidas could have been called Dalit in todays standard, is ignored by Shakespearian BA Hons who r always in quandary whether “2 b or not 2 b” native Indians. Same is happening to Chinese native across Himalaya. Chinese cultural ideal of harmony in existence (a.k.a. Confucianism) has been annihilated and replaced by Western Christian European thought currents, such as communism and mercantile capitalism. Materialistic superstitious communism brings the worst out of humanity across the globe. There is not a single communist regime that has “not” committed large scale genocides of its own people in the most grotesque and dystopian fashion.

    Such barbarism is rivalled only by the genocide of native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, many peoples of Asia and Africa by Europeans. Not so surprisingly, Communism is a direct product of European “high” thought. Ahem.

    China is not only communist in government anymore, it is also a mercantilist capitalist economy with high-flying robber barons supported by nepotism of the ruling Communist Party of China. That means, in practice, it is the worst of both worlds. Sad and scary, but true indeed.Recommend

  • Raj Iyer

    Why does every blogger want to be Eeyore?
    When Obama became President, did the life of blacks in the US suddenly better, did discrimination and segregation cease?
    Did the elevation of BB to premiership improve the lot of Pakistani women?

    Take good news where you can find them. As long as the tumor is not growing the cancer patient will survive.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi
  • True Nationalist -Secularist

    sanghis are supporters of stoneage ideology mentioned in manusmruti which propogates caste system, hatred towards non-muslims, tribals, women. all such appointments are window dressing to mask the communal, castiest ideology of rss.Recommend