BJP’s Choice Of ‘Dalit Leader’ Ram Nath Kovind As President Shows We Can Never Be Free Of Identity Politics – Huffington Post India

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“How many of you logged onto Wikipedia today? I did. #RamNathKovind”.

Trinamool leader Derek O’Brien’s candid tweet probably summed up succinctly what most of us were thinking when the BJP announced their nominee for the next President of India.

Ram Nath Kovind is currently the governor of Bihar. More importantly, he was the head of the BJP’s Dalit Morcha. The BJP’s move in nominating a Dalit to the presidency is being hailed as a “masterstroke”.

But it also reveals how deeply we are entrenched in identity politics even by those parties that decry the identity politics of other parties as pandering.

Kovind has been, according to all reports, an impeccable Governor, a by-the-books man, fair and punctilious, a politician who shuns the limelight and avoids controversy. He has signed every bill the Nitish Kumar government sent him without any fuss. His biggest controversy in his role as Governor was apparently making young Tej Pratap Yadav take his oath twice after he mispronounced one word.

But for the BJP, at least according to media consensus, his main USP is that he is Dalit. As JP Yadav reports in The Telegraph, the BJP is “playing the Dalit card on the Opposition and seeking to send a message to the community within which resentment is said to be building against the party.”

What does it say about the state of our politics that the elevation of a Ram Nath Kovind is expected to wipe away the scars left by the caste clashes in Saharanpur, Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the public flogging of the Dalit youths in Una?

Is this not pandering as well, the politics of symbolism trumping the reality on the ground? It is not that Kovind has been particularly outspoken on any of these issues in recent years. He is a good party man and carefully keeps on the right side of the party line which is his right. When Amit Shah announced his name, he stressed on his “poor and Dalit” origins.

He may have worked for the upliftment of the poor and the Dalit as Narendra Modi once said but to expect that the “poor and Dalit” will forgive and forget Una and Saharanpur just because one of their own, especially one few of them knew much about before today, makes it to Rashtrapati Bhavan assumes that our electorate is gullible and easily distracted by shiny baubles.

What does it say about the state of our politics that the elevation of a Ram Nath Kovind is expected to wipe away the scars left by the caste clashes in Saharanpur, Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the public flogging of the Dalit youths in Una?

Kovind is obviously one piece in a larger BJP strategy to woo Dalits and bring them under one greater Hindu umbrella. But leaving aside electoral politics it is sad when the highest office in the land becomes entirely reduced to identity politics power play.

This is not just about the BJP.



Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Activists of various organizations participate in a candlelight march to observe Rohith Vemula’s first death anniversary at Jantar Mantar.

The Opposition’s reaction to the announcement of Kovind is also based on that one single issue of identity. Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan essentially spelled it out for the Opposition when he said, “If they don’t support, it would mean they are anti-dalits.”

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