BJP’s Kovind has the edge

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By 2017-07-17

BY Sugeeswara Senadhira

In normal circumstances, the Indian Presidential Election is a dull affair and goes by general consensus most of the time. Sometimes there is a lackluster contest between a powerful candidate from the ruling party and a token nominee from the opposition.

When the ruling National Democratic Alliance lead by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominated Ram Nath Kovind as its candidate, it was expected that he would get a smooth sailing into the Rashtrapati Bhavan at the top of the Raisina Hill in New Delhi. However, the Congress Party lead Opposition decided to field Meira Kumar as its candidate, ensuring a fight for the position of the nominal Head of State. Winner of the election today (July 17) will take over from President Pranab Mukherjee, who ends his five-year term on July 24. The President is chosen by an electoral college comprising elected Members of Parliament - both elected house Lok Sabha and the upper house Rajya Sabha - and Members of Legislative Assemblies in the States and Union territories.

Although the BJP is the single largest party in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and rules more states than any other party, its candidate is not guaranteed to win and it will need the help of neutral regional parties like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu to take it over the line.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's nominee is the current Governor of Bihar, Ram Nath Kovind. He was first elected to Rajya Sabha from the Uttar Pradesh constituency. He is a lawyer by profession and used to practice law in Delhi. He was the former President of the BJP Dalit Morcha and President of All India Koli Samaj.

It is most likely that the next President of India is going to be Kovind, since the BJP has a majority in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and in most of the state legislative assemblies. Still, it is not 100 percent sure as the opposition may accuse him of being a controversial figure or link him up with RSS extremities or use his Dalit image.

Since adaption of the Republican Constituency in 1950, the first 4 Presidential Elections were only formalities and giants of the freedom struggle, Dr. Rajendra Prasad (got elected 3 times 1950-1962), Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan (1962-1967), and Dr. Zakir Hussain (1967-1969) were easily elected. After the death of Dr. Zakir Hussain, the fifth election was held in 1969.

The presidential polls today may turn out to be the closest electoral contest of the kind since 1969, when VV Giri faced off with Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy. In a strange twist of affairs, Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi of the Congress Party, decided to field an independent candidate, VV Giri against her own party's nominee, Sanjiva Reddy. Indira Gandhi used the Presidential Election to get a firm control over the party from the conservative old guards lead by Deputy Prime Minister, Morarji Desai.

The 1969 Presidential Election

The 1969 Presidential Election was the only time no candidate reached the required majority mark in the first count. Candidate after candidate was eliminated until only Giri and Reddy remained in fray. Finally, Varahagiri Venkata Giri emerged victorious with 420,077 votes against his rival Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy who got 405,427 votes. The victory of Giri, who earlier served as High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, was hailed by Indira as a victory of the progressive forces against the reactionary forces. This resulted in a major split in the Congress as leaders like Morarji Desai, K. Kamraj, S. Nijalingappa, and Sanjiva Reddy left the party to form a new party dubbed as Old Congress. Indira Gandhi easily defeated them at the General Elections of 1971 after the victory over Pakistan in the war that created Bangladesh and reigned supreme until the defeat in 1977 after the notorious emergency rule of 1975-1977.

When the opposition came to power, Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister and Sanjiva Reddy became the President. This year, the Opposition seems all set to unite behind the Congress to support common candidate Meira Kumar, another Dalit to fight the BJP nominee Kovind.

First Dalit President

The first Dalit to become the Indian President was erudite leader from Kerala, K. R. Narayanan. He served as India's Ambassador to Thailand, Turkey, China, and the United States of America. He received doctorates in Science and Law and was also a chancellor in several universities. He was also the vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University. He was the first President from Kerala, and also the first Dalit President.

Dr. Abdul Kalam

The Indian Presidency is a nominal position and almost all the Presidents became mere rubber stamps for the decisions taken by the cabinet headed by the Prime Minister. The only exception to the rule was Dr. Abdul Kalam, who was a scientist who played a leading role in the development of India's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. He also received the Bharat Ratna. Dr. Abdul Kalam was affectionately known as the People's President, due to his extra-presidential activities.

The BJP candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, is a former head of the BJP Dalit wing and a two-time Rajya Sabha member hailing from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh.

He became the Bihar Governor after Modi stormed to power in May 2014. Nominating Kovind as the candidate, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Kovind would make an exceptional president and called him a strong voice for the poor and the marginalized communities. "With his illustrious background in the legal arena, Kovind's knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation," Modi expressed confidence.

Opposition candidate Meira Kumar, former member of the Indian Foreign Service, joined Parliament in 1985 from Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh, defeating political heavyweights like Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati, two powerful Dalit leaders of Indian politics. She was elected unopposed as the first Woman Speaker of Lok Sabha and served from 2009 to 2014.

Her father, Jagjivan Ram was a prominent Dalit leader of the Congress and later served as Deputy Prime Minister. Although Kovind, her rival candidate does not possess an illustrious record like her, he has a very good chance of defeating Meira in the first round itself.

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