Indian news is that Ram Nath Kovind, former governor of the northern Indian state of Bihar in the North, has been elected as the country’s new president. It is an accepted fact that under Indian setup, the president’s job is restricted to rubberstamping the decisions of the central government, faithfully. He cannot ask too many questions to the government or parliament unless he is ready to relinquish his top position.
BJP led NDA candidate RN Kovind has been elected the country’s 14th president. Former governor of Bihar, Kovind (71), is the second Dalit leader after RK Narayanan to occupy India’s highest but purely ceremonial or rubber-stamp post. In the final vote count, the Modi nominee Kovind received 65.6 per cent votes translating into 702,044 Electoral College votes, while Congress led UPA candidate Meira Kumar managed to get 34.35 per cent (367,314 votes). According to reports, there was cross voting in UP, Gujarat and Goa during the elections, which resulted into Kovind’s massive 2/3rd votes. 522 MPs voted for Kovind, while 225 parliamentarians voted for Meira Kumar.
A disappointed incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee’s term is ending on July 24 and Kovind will take oath the next day to become India’s 14th President. In the last Presidential polls held in 2012, Pranab Mukherjee had defeated PA Sangma by over 69 per cent votes.
Born on October 1, 1945, in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur Dehat, Ram Nath Kovind was the youngest among three brothers. After graduating in law from a Kanpur college, Kovind had gone to Delhi to prepare for the Indian Administrative Services. He failed to pass it twice and started practicing the law. He is a former President of the BJP Dalit Morcha (1998-2002) and President of the All-India Koli Samaj as well as the SC/ST representative at IIM-Calcutta.
Kovind, an advocate by profession, used to practice in Supreme Court and Delhi High Court. He entered politics in 1994 when he became a member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh and served as an MP for two consecutive terms till 2006. He had represented India in the United Nations in New York and addressed United Nations General Assembly in October 2002. In 1977, Kovind had worked as the private secretary of the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai. Later Kovind had also served as national spokesperson of BJP. On August 8, 2015, Kovind was appointed governor of Bihar and now he is the first citizen of India. His tactics helped him to grow in career ladder.
Kovind, son of a cloth-seller, but never campaigned for a Dalit cause and he has kept a low profile. He stayed away from the media as he didn’t want to be controversial and he never attended Dalit programs. In fact, he never projected himself as a Dalit leader as he prefers to stay away from controversies. His unassuming, submissive nature is the main quality for which he has been assigned to Presidential palace as its custodian for a term. He, like his mentor Gujarati Modi, is fluent in both Hindi and English.
Kovind silently built up his political career from lower cadre RSS man to reach the Presidential Palace and thanks to his caste he became the Indian president.
Modi and Kovind have known each other for a long time. There is nothing wrong if the PM goes for a man with whom he shares chemistry. A “committed member” of the right-wing RSS, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, Kovind rose to become a lawyer and served two terms in the upper house of parliament. He has also been the party’s spokesperson, led a BJP Dalit organisation and has held several important party posts. His closeness to the RSS helped him go places. A highly lucky man, indeed!
India targets Hindu low castes and Muslims
Dalit writer-activist Chandrabhan Prasad is not alone in claiming that he does not know about the man who has just been elected to the top constitutional post. His nomination by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) caused so much surprise that a local media report quipped that it “seems only two people knew about his candidature: PM Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. Others in the party are insignificant as PM Modi is everything in the ruling BJP and the government. Nobody has courage even to think of asking questions to Modi. Modi has gone for a man, who is not towering, is media shy and whose political and ideological orientation is in sync with him. The president should do exactly what the party and government wants him to do. New president Kovind fits the bill comfortably.
The system which divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (the Hindi word for religion, but here it means duty) is generally accepted to be more than 3,000 years old. The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Many believe that the groups originated from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation.
The Dalits sit at the bottom of the Hindu caste system in India and complaints of discrimination are still widespread. Many in fact, accuse the BJP of perpetuating the Brahmin-led caste order where Dalits figure at the bottom, and say Kovind’s nomination comes at a time when the party is being accused of being insensitive towards the community.
Four years ago, a group of upper-caste men arrived at Mehul Vinodbhai Kabira’s modest two-room home in Gujarat and threatened to burn it down. Bhayla is a nondescript village of around 450 low slung brick-and-cement homes straddling a highway dotted by pharmaceutical, engineering and bio-tech factories. Most of the homes in this dense village are owned by land-owning upper castes, but around 70 belong to Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) like Kabira, who form the lowest rung of India’s harsh caste hierarchy.
Kabira’s crime? He dared to park his newly-bought auto-rickshaw for passengers near the village at the bus stop, which also doubled up as its three-wheeler stand. His parents worked all their lives as scavengers, collecting manure, but their son had decided to shun the indignity of a lowly caste-based occupation. Instead, he took out a loan and started playing a three-wheeler. “Most of the auto-rickshaws here are owned by upper-caste men. They couldn’t tolerate a Dalit plying his trade at the bus stand. So they beat me up and threatened me,” he says. Kabira did not take any chances. He left the village with his family to live with a relative some 15km (nine miles) away and drove his three-wheeler. When he returned to Bhayla in 2014, he sold off his auto-rickshaw, paid back his loan and signed up as a 217 rupees-a-day ($3; £2.40) contract worker in the “housekeeping” – a euphemism for a cleaning job – at a pharmaceutical factory. A few houses away, Dayabhai Kanabhai Kabira, 42, faced the ire of upper-caste neighbours in a different way. A canny farmer, he had inherited two acres of farm land from his father, and sold it to buy a four-acre plot some 40km away to augment his income.
India targets weak sections of the nation, namely Muslims and low caste Hindus, Christians, among other such communities. Most of the violence incidents against them are not reported in the press and media, managed by those lords who hate Muslims and low caste and all minorities. Even when reported, the regime and state government refuse to act. Governments instruct the police officials not to “entertain” the complaints of Muslims and others but just pretend being “gravely” concerned about the problems they face from their foes. That is it.
Dalit lives have improved in Gujarat – and all over India – and many upper-caste people are finding it difficult to digest this. “Conflict increases where social conditions [for Dalits] may be getting slightly better,” says the Director of the Centre for Policy Research, a leading think-tank.
Atrocities against low Hindu caste Dalits are nothing new in Gujarat, the birthplace of former India leader Mahatma Gandhi, who waged a campaign against untouchability all his life. In the past, conflicts between Dalits and upper castes were restricted to fights over land, wages, water, housing and the practice of untouchability. But conflicts take place without any valid reasons.
Gujarat has only 2.3% of India’s 200 million Dalits – 14th most populous state for the community – yet it ranks high in terms of atrocities against them, with more than 1,000 cases of “crimes” against Dalits recorded in 2015. Between 1990 and 2015, 536 Dalits were murdered in Gujarat and 750 Dalit women raped. The conviction rate is abysmal: suspects in 95 of 100 cases are freed, according to one study. Eleven districts remain officially declared as “atrocity prone” for Dalits since 1981. “Dalits are protesting. They are asking questions, filing right to information applications, petitioning authorities and quizzing village council heads,” says Dalit rights activist Martin Macwan. “Upper castes are getting jittery and the violence continues.” His organisation Navsarjan Trust carried out a four-year-long study – published in 2010 – recording 98 untouchability practices in nearly 1,600 villages in Gujarat.
Most of the findings were startling, for example: More than 90% of the villages banned temple entry to Dalits; 54% of government schools had a separate queue for Dalit children for the midday school lunch; 64% of village councils had Dalit members sitting separately and being given separate tea cups or glasses; In 96% of villages, Dalits did not have access to burial grounds; But the recent violence against the Dalits, according to Shah, is rooted in a shrill campaign by radical Hindu groups “telling people what to eat, drink, dress and monitor their behavior”; Critics say the self-styled “cow protection” vigilantes are running extortion rackets and running amok even as Prime Minister Modi maintains a curious silence; The agitation in Gujarat may not hurt the BJP in polls much – a third of Dalit voters have voted for the Congress party in the recent past. But, as psychologist Sanjay Kumar says, it might hurt the party’s electoral prospects in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, two states with large Dalit populations and which go to the polls early next year.
Things took a new, devious turn in Gujarat, one of India’s most prosperous states, ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP for more than a decade. A video surfaced showing four Dalit men being assaulted by zealous “cow protection” vigilantes. Their crime was that they were doing their caste job of skinning a dead animal. (Many Hindus consider cows sacred and the slaughter of the animal is banned in many Indian states. There have been attacks across India where Muslims have been accused of eating or smuggling beef.)
A night patrol with India’s cow protection vigilantes Angry Dalits came out in protest and the parliament in Delhi was in uproar. Some 30 Dalits, including women, have tried to take their own lives – and one has died- since the incident, tens of thousands of community members pledged to boycott some of their traditional tasks, including the disposal of dead animals and manual cleaning of sewers.
But, as social scientist Ghanshyam Shah says, even Gandhi was helpless when schools in Gujarat set up by organisations owing allegiance to his ideals refused to admit Dalit students. The state saw some of the earliest upper-caste agitations against affirmative action for the Dalits in the 1980s.
There is deep social conflict bubbling from below. This cannot be good news for Modi who is only interested in and focuses on his next foreign tours.
Observation: Rubber stamp and India’s problems
The five-year job of Indian president is largely ceremonial but could be crucial when elections throw up fragmented mandates. The president apparently has no role in governance and other importance matters concerning policies – they rest with the Prime minister and his cabinet. The Premier calls all shots while the President just agrees with Pm and obeys him. Generally, the president is an insider who would not create any obstacles to the government and sign anything that is sent from the government like an obedient student.
It is said India president is equal to British Queen. The government of UK must take the advice of the Queen on all important matters, but in India president’s existence itself is forgotten. Media reports only when the president goes abroad or visits any state in India. Of course, all top foreign dignitaries do meet the president and have sumptuous lunch or dinner as the care may be. TV often shows how he receives foreign presidents.
Ram Nath Kovind will be the first RSS-BJP leader to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan, but his real test will be to not be swayed by his party on matters where he may have to take a call as per his conscience and assert his authority on issues having no precedent or requiring his discretion, as the Constitution may not be clear on what stand should be taken.
Kovind is not the first low caste President; Earlier, a distinguished carrier diplomat and educationalist KR Narayanan with a lot of experience in human resources management as an Ambassador to USA, China, among other nations, the VC of JNU and Union minister for technology etc, was made Indian President and he knew how manage the political leaders as well.
While it is an open secret that governors are only following the diktats of the ruling party at the Centre, the opposition will approach the President — as governors hold office at the pleasure of the President — for redressal.
Though many would argue that the President of India is a mere “rubber stamp”, experience shows that on many occasions the head of the state has had to take tough decisions which altered the course of history.
In recent years, renowned scientist APJ Abdul Kalam faced problems from the government as the latter‘s recommendations were not approved by the President who returned the recommendations of the government for reconsideration but the government repeatedly resent the same proposal and it became a prestige issue for the government and a Presidency vs. government tussle ensued. When the government repeatedly resent the same proposals for presidential accent, Kalam had then to “obey” the government affix his rubber stand to end the crisis..Government wanted to show its is above the president. Maybe, Dr. Kalam thought as the director of a military production organization (missiles), he could get everything he wanted from the government but as nation’s President he had to forget that privilege and prestige.
That is the rubber stamp president. Every President wishes to say he or she is not a mere rubber stamp but the Constitution has prescribed the role of the president in a way as being subordinate to the government. In contrast the president of USA or Russia is a powerful post and he is the “supreme leader” of the government. .
Kovind has been chosen in order to widen the vote bank of low caste Hindus for the Hindutva parties and that is the reason why the Congress also fielded a low caste Hindu woman just for the sake of opposing the sure candidate Kovind as BJP had mustered enough to support him to presidency.
As President RSS operative Kovind won’t be like scientist Dr. Abdul Kalam, the widely known as the Missile man and respected globally as the Indian intelligent common man as president and who was committed entirely the to services to the nation, but as a low caste man he knows what India is all about and is likely to avoid any controversy surrounding the Presidency. Abdul Kalam was nominated by the then PM Vajpayee. He can now plan his foreign tours to enjoy his stay at Rashtrapati Bhavan but should align his external plans with those of overtly ambitious PM Modi who is now the touring premier of India.
At present BJP has a comfortable majority in the parliament and he is not going to have any problem at all, unless, of course, BJP loses power in the next parliament poll in two years . However, many prominent Dalits say they are unaware what contributions, if any, the new first citizen has made on behalf of the community.
Kovind is not entirely without controversy, however, A 2010 Hindustan Times report quoted him as saying that “Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation” at a press conference calling for the scrapping of a report that recommended government job reservations for socially and economically disadvantaged sections among religious and linguistic minorities. This was a political statement and is still the stand of the RSS- BJP Hindutva duo.
Hoping to get another term from PM Modi at Presidential palace to enjoy life, Congress leader and incumbent president Mukherjee tried to appease and cooperate with the Modi government on most issues and promptly signed bills, he did question the issuing of multiple ordinances on land acquisition bill and summoned Union ministers to explain why this was being done. He also spoke critically about growing intolerance in the country. It would be interesting to see if Kovind would be critical of NDA government on any issue.
New precedents have been set by Presidents over the years. While President Shankar Dayal Sharma called Vajpayee to form the government in 1996 as BJP had emerged as the largest party in the Lok Sabha elections, this practice was not followed by his successors in the wake of this dispensation not lasting more than 13 days.
President APJ Abdul Kalam, who became head of state during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime was not a BJP member, had a good run but his decision to sign on the papers imposing President’s Rule in Bihar in 2005 earned him a lot of censure. That he had signed the orders while on an official visit to Moscow and without asking questions to the Manmohan Singh government and Bihar governor Buta Singh made matters worse.
Modi and RSS-BJP’s choice of a low caste RSS Hindu from Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the North means to further target mosque-structure politics for consolidation of Hindutva hold over low cast Hindus. After making a Sanyasi (saint politician) as UP chief minister the Modi government has brought in a low caste Hindu as Indian President. That means, Muslims fear, the RSS-BJP government and RSS-BJP president would jointly coerce the Hon. Supreme Court judges to deliver a pro-Hindutva judgment over reconstruction of grand Babri Mosque pulled by Hindutva criminal gangs belonging most of the Hindu parties of India in 1992 and might even save the false prestige of new Hindutva criminal crops.
This could mean two things. One, the Modi government would speed up judgment and give justice to Muslims and the historic Babri Mosque, illegally destroyed by Hindu criminal elements on fictitious stories spread by RSS with Congress government support. Two, the Modi government, UP government and President would coerce the Hon. Supreme Court to disallow the reconstruction of the Mosque as the Federal Government of Narasimha Rao promised to the world on January 06, 1992 the day of destruction of the Mosque and let the government to promote RS criminal elements to further advance their Hindutva goals.
Interestingly, the BJP regime is pushing ahead with the Congress policy of imposition of north Indian language Hindi in all states that would in due course replace the regional language, first by gradually reducing the importance of regional languages. Tamil Nadu opposes the ugly mindset of Indian government now being controlled by RSS. Congress, the culprit in trying to force Hindi on non-Hindi speaking people of India must be too glad that the BJP which promoted to keep Muslim under check and reduce their presence in governments, assemblies, parliament, government services, government retirement beneficiaries among them. Insignificant Kovind could be expected to be with BJP-Congress duo in forcing Hindi on non-Hindi speaking people saying it could be a link language for national integration but it is indeed the linguistic imperialism.
Unity of India lies in the hearts and minds of people- not in languages and forcing a language on people is strange. Only a government that has no constructive ideas would try to create problems of people in order to stay in power. Those who want to work in the North India would automatically learn Hindi. But in order to just visit North or other parts of India, no one needs to know Hindi or any other Indian language and necessary communication does take place as people are getting educated.
Hindi is like any other language in India- nothing more or less any attempt to impose it on every Indian would continue to fail, despite huge resources being allocated for propagation of Hindi as “special link” everywhere. Now the BJP government is also promoting another north Indian language Sanskrit in a big way along with Ayurveda pills while many other Indian languages lack central support; for instance, Tulu language does not have scrip and Union government is not serious about such important Indian issues. . . But Indians love their own languages and should have the right to promote their own languages whether BJP or Congress or Indian regime likes it or not.
It would be naive if anyone expects Kovind speaks for the Kashmiris who seek justice and sovereignty. India’s occupation forces have, brutally and through trap techniques, have slaughtered over 100,000 innocent Kashmiris, most of them are Muslims. Will he raise his silent voice against or Sri Lankan criminal assaults and regular atrocities against Indian Tamils at Katchatheevu, elsewhere? He is of course duty bound to support Indian case in Arunachal Pradesh which China is eager to acquire from India by supporting India cause in badminton, etc. China also joins India and Pakistan in occupational cries against Kashmiris.
APJ Kalam could be a model president of India for every future president to enumerate for state performance. Kovind may have to take a call on matters unforeseen and without past examples and how he goes about it will determine his proper management of political human resources and a place in history of constitutional politics. Otherwise, one need not dwell into the choice of an unknown person for Presidential palace. That is the job of Indian political class to determine. PM Modi thinks India does not have any better person for presidency as Congress government and President Mukherjee thought a cricketer who was promoted by gambling masters and pampered by corporate-media lords should honored with the nation’s heist national honor Bharatratna.
Indian politicians have no shame in undermining and even insulting the national honors, though!
World expects a positive end to the Babri mosque demolition and construction of Hindu structure over the Mosque. Indian media lords think by denying Muslims their legitimate right to have mosques built in India, they would defeat Islam and insult Muslims. They also insult the Constitution of India by seeking to degrade Muslim minority in place of due protection for them as minority. They have generated fear among Muslims, including those who are anti-Islamic by faith and practice. They don’t mind more partitions if only that would make India 100% Hindus.
No one knows anything about the new President of India and none now thinks Kovind could be a better or good president. Kovind’s first concern likely to be to come across as balanced and neutral whenever the opposition knocks on his door. Congress and other opposition parties have been raising objections to the way many governors in the NDA government are conducting themselves.
Writer: Prolific writer, Educationist; Independent Analyst; Investigative journalist, Columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics. He can be reached at email: firstname.lastname@example.org