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Ram Nath Kovind: Making History Before Taking Office
By admin July 21, 2017

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This week, India elected National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate Ram Nath Kovind to the presidency.  The 71-year-old former governor of Bihar beat United Progressive Alliance (UPA) nominee Meira Kumar with 702,044 Electoral College votes as opposed to 367,314 votes for the opposition. Post-election reports shows that cross voting in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Goa contributed to Kovind’s significant 2/3rd blowout. Some analysts have undercut the significance of the results, calling the presidential role “largely ceremonial.” However, there are several important factors about the election that should be highlighted, beginning with the profile of the President-elect.

When downplaying the importance of the presidency, Kovind’s origins should be considered as he essentially rose through the ranks of politics and society from the Dalit class to the highest office in the Indian order of precedence. Dalits make up the bottom of the Hindu caste system, and though protection laws exist, the population continues to face widespread discrimination. Growing up with a label of “untouchable” placed Kovind with the estimated 15 percent of the population severely and systematically marginalized because of the country’s long-standing social stratification system. As Kovind becomes the second President in Indian history to hail from the Dalit caste and the first ever Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) backed “untouchable” candidate, he sets an example for marginalized Indians seeking education to escape class-based discrimination.

The BJP’s decision to back Kovind was strategic, picking the accomplished lawyer, rights advocate and politician with the hopes of winning Dalit votes at the 2019 general election. The BJP is historically dominated by high-caste Brahmins, making the party’s support for the President-elect even more notable. India’s Muslims are also highly unlikely to vote for BJP as party ideology is focused on Hindu nationalist ideology, a trend evidenced by the party’s failure to give a single ticket to a Muslim during the March election held in India’s populous state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). But, in a change of pace, UP’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced that he cast in ballot support for Kovind, proclaiming the BJP’s choice “will win the election with a huge margin.”

As the President-elect assumes the title of chief of the Indian Armed Forces and the authority to dissolve the Lok Sabha or declare various categories of emergencies (state, national, and financial) among several other constitutionally derived powers, he says he is intent on upholding the integrity of India’s secular democratic constitution. Unfortunately, the “affable and gentle” leader will likely be unable to alter the daily reality of India’s poor due to legislative backlog, government corruption, and higher-ranking items on the political agenda. Nonetheless, his new title should serve as a symbol of possibility and gradual change for the future of India’s most vulnerable.

 

Further Reading

India’s Dalits Still Fighting Untouchability

India Elects ‘Untouchable’ President Ram Nath Kovind From Lowest ‘Dalit’ Caste

Presidential Election 2017 LIVE: Ram Nth Kovind elected 14th President of India; to take oath on July 25

Presidential Election Polls: 100% voting in 16 states, all eyes on counting tomorrow


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