Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s decision to support Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nominee for President Ram Nath Kovind side stepping the 18 party non-BJP grand alliance has not torn them apart. Apart from the expected discomfiture in the alliance which created ripples, the JD (U)-Congress-RJD alliance in Patna is not breaking up any time soon, assured RJD strongman Lalu Prasad Yadav after the meeting of the opposition parties in the national capital on Thursday.
The meeting chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi unanimously agreed to seasoned politician Meira Kumar being the opposition alliance’s nominee for the office of President.
Needless to say she is pitted against Kovind and her defeat in the Presidential election next month on July 17 is certain. If Kovind has a bemishless record as a Dalit politician from the RSS stable, Meira Kumar has been a Parliamentarian for five terms or a quarter of a century, along with being the Speaker of the Lok Sabha as well as a Union minister. She began her career in the Indian Foreign Service. Born in Patna she is an accomplished “Bihar ki beti” of well known Dalit stalwart of the Congress, the late Babu Jagjivan Ram, who rose to became the Deputy Prime Minister of the country.
Meira Kumar’s choice was not entirely unexpected in the prevailing circumstances as she had met Sonia Gandhi a few days back. On his part the Prime Minister has invariably been one up on the opposition be it last November’s Demonetisation or the recent appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of the crucial and most populous state of Uttar Pradesh in the country.
The Presidential contest by a weak opposition is more symbolic than anything else. It may be recalled that the Dalits, the poor, the minorities and and the oppressed and depressed classes in the country had been the traditional vote bank of the Congress, the oldest political entity which was in the vanguard of the independence struggle and ruled the roost for more than three decades.
Thereafter, regional satraps appeared on the scene in different parts of the country carving out their own spheres of influence in the Hindi heartland and in the South apart from other regions.
The emergence of a backward as Prime Minister in Modi and now a Dalit in his capacity as the 14th Head of State are not mere coincidences bringing to the fore the pre-eminence of caste identities in society.
At the same time it will be naive on anybody’s part to assume that if a Dalit becomes the country’s President for the second time the first being K R Narayanan, it can solve the problems of the deprived and oppressed communities suffering for centuries.
Efforts at evolving a consensus on Kovind backfired. An ideological contest has become inevitable. The writing is on the wall about an RSS man being enconsed in the sprawling and majestic Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The BJP’s studied silence about the atrocities against Dalits since Modi assumed power at the Centre on May 26, 2014 has angered the community. In the prevailing situation the Opposition is unlikely to pick up the obvious ideological and political gauntlet being dangled at them by the ruling establishment.
At the same time what cannot be lost sight of is that the office of President is not a political one. The Constitution casts on the President and the Head of State alone the responsibility to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution. It is another matter that considerable number of people in the country believe that the aims and objectives of the RSS are at variance with the provisions of the Constitution.
After the meeting of opposition parties, RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav urged Nitish Kumar to reconsider what he described as “his wrong decision” to back the NDA nominee for President. Lalu ruled out the danger of the JD (U)-Congress-RJD alliance breaking up. Taking a dig at Nitish Kumar, he made it clear he would “never have voted with the BJP even if the Congress had asked him to”.
The Kovind-Meira Kumar contest brings to the fore the role and responsibility of the President, independent of his his/her erstwhile political affiliations or ideological indoctrination. It is in the overall fitness of things, the ruling party and the opposition owes the nation not only a free and fair contest leading to the installation of a dignified Head of State.
( T R Ramachandran is senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)