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Ram Nath Kovind elected 14th President as BJP stamps its political writ

LiveMint logoLiveMint 20-07-2017 Gyan Varma

New Delhi: In the end it was a no-contest. Ram Nath Kovind comfortably outpaced Meira Kumar to win two-thirds of the electoral college vote and is now set to be the country’s 14th President.

While Kovind was backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Kumar was supported by a group of opposition parties led by the Congress.

The subtext of the victory is the implications it holds for national politics. At one level it reinforces the position of the BJP as the principal pole of Indian politics. At another level, the margin of defeat suffered by Kumar poses fresh questions for the Congress, still struggling to recover from the rout it suffered in the 16th general election.

On Thursday, Kovind won 2,930 votes with a total value of 702,044 as opposed to former Lok Sabha Speaker Kumar who won 1,844 votes with a total value of 367,314, returning officer for the polls Anoop Mishra told reporters.

The victory of Kovind, a Dalit, also captures the social re-engineering that the BJP has undertaken under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The BJP under Modi and party president Amit Shah has sought to widen its support base beyond its traditional voters.

“The choice of Ram Nath Kovind as the presidential candidate is the first major acceptance by BJP that Dalits are a key constituency and the party must reach out to them. Reaching out to different sections, mainly Dalits and other backward classes (OBCs), was visible during the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. But the candidature of Kovind is a step forward in acknowledging and reaching out to Dalits,” said a senior BJP leader who has worked closely with Kovind.

The BJP’s social engineering experiment of appointing Kovind as presidential candidate is also significant because he is a Dalit leader from Uttar Pradesh, a state that was instrumental in BJP’s victory in the 2014 elections. “Ram Nath Kovind is the first President of India who is from Uttar Pradesh. It is a significant message sent out by the BJP,” the leader said.

Analysts concur.

“The result of the presidential election was clear from the beginning. The BJP is trying to give a message to Dalits that they are important to it,” said Sanjay Kumar, a New Delhi-based political analyst and director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

“On a negative note, this was the first presidential elections where the narrative was not about the strength or merits of a candidate and was instead about how much bigger a Dalit personality one was than the other,” he added.

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Although senior Congress leaders accepted that this was a “lost battle since it began”, their larger worry is the party’s inability to rally the rest of the opposition on an anti-BJP platform.

It was Congress president Sonia Gandhi who took the first step in bringing together the opposition parties on the issue but Janata Dal United’s decision to break ranks hurt the opposition’s bid to put together a united front.

“This question mark was not as big after the 2014 defeat for Congress but it has grown bigger with its worsening electoral performance in states and more significantly, its failure in setting an agenda, and being only reactive. The presidential polls have in a way showed that there are several regional leaders who are starting to look bigger than the Congress’ top brass,” Sanjay Kumar added.

To make matters worse, some members of opposition parties may have voted in favour of Kovind as he managed to win nearly two-thirds of the votes.

Bhupendra Yadav, BJP general secretary, was quoted by ANI News as saying: “I would like to thank 116 MPs and MLAs of the other side who listened to their conscience and voted in favour of Kovindji.”

Senior Congress leaders said that they will look into the allegations of cross-voting, particularly in Gujarat and Maharashtra.

To be sure, the Election Commission had made it clear in the run-up to the polls that political parties cannot issue whips to their representatives in the presidential election.

Speaking after the announcement of the results, Kovind told reporters: “I never aspired to be the President. My win is a message to those discharging their duties with integrity. My election as the President is evidence of the greatness of Indian democracy.

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