Giving voice to Dalits and dispossessed
At Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, we were waiting for the governor to arrive in the book fair’s cavernous pandal. He arrived two minutes before time. Owing to his stature and the occasion, the black suit he wore sat well on his tall frame. As soon as the door of the car opened, I welcomed him with my introduction. Shaking my hand with warmth, he said: “You don’t need any introduction.”
Generally, modern-day politicians say this to mock the people they meet. Arrogance and disdain have become the signature of most Indian politicians these days. He appeared the opposite to these traits: mature, polite and graceful. On the dais, I discovered that the governor had already read my book. The portions that he had underlined to quote were the ones that I had also selected for my speech. Does he think on the same lines as me? The question sprang to my mind.
In my speech, I invoked Nigerian Nobel laureate Chinua Achebe. Achebe has written: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” After the speech, he whispered in my ear: “Your views are extremely convincing in the Indian context!” His speech was succinct and rich in content. Before he bid goodbye, his polite nature, intellectual depth, social commitment and graceful retorts had left an imprint on everybody’s mind.
By now you would have understood that I am speaking about Ram Nath Kovind. His educational background, his views and his personality make him suitable for the President’s post. His candidature did take many by surprise, because he always kept a low profile. But this is Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s style. The duo has made a smart political move. Let us begin with the politics behind it.
Kovind was born into a Dalit household. Every political party would have to think twice before opposing him since they don’t want to carry the stamp of being anti-Dalit. The opposition had faced a similar dilemma when the Congress put forward K.R. Narayanan’s name. The record of his victory is still intact. The compulsions of a similar brand of politics have now compelled the opposition to nominate Meira Kumar as their candidate. Kumar is the daughter of renowned Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram and has held a number of high posts including the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. For the first time, two extremely qualified Dalit candidates are pitted against each other for the President’s post. The Congress hopes that by fielding Kumar, it will be able to keep some of its remaining Dalit support base intact.
The BJP’s leadership realizes they will never get Muslim votes. So, they want to draw away the Dalits who have traditionally been the Congress’s vote bank.
Even before Kovind’s candidature, the Bhim app, the razzmatazz around the Ambedkar anniversary and Amit Shah having lunch with a Dalit family were indicators of this. Kovind hails from the Koli community. Being a native of Uttar Pradesh, not only will he influence voters in the state, the BJP will also gain in Bihar, his karmabhoomi. The support of the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), is a sign of this.
Apart from the entire NDA, the JD(U) and a faction of the AIADMK have come out in Kovind’s support. These elections could prove to be a trial by fire for the opposition because people are seeing it as a rehearsal for 2019. The assessment till now makes it clear that Kovind’s victory is a certainty and the opposition is only in the fray since it doesn’t want to give the NDA a walkover.
Ram Nath Kovind’s critics may say that he has never won an election despite getting the opportunity to fight elections twice. The buzz is that he didn’t get a Lok Sabha ticket in 2014 because of this. Those who are jealous may allege he has always preferred the back door to assume office.
Without getting into an argument, I would politely like to remember Abraham Lincoln here. He, too, lost many elections, and even went bankrupt, but he won the election for an office considered to be the most powerful in the world. As the president of the United States, he abolished slavery.
While it is true that the Indian President has his constraints, after reaching the office of the President Ram Nath Kovind can do a lot of things that are required.
Even today the nation doesn’t want to hear the voices of the Dalits and the dispossessed. A person who has risen from among them will have to take initiative to change the situation. Will he keep Chinua Achebe’s saying in mind? History is looking at Ram Nath Kovind with anticipation.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.