Another Dalit to become India’s President


NEW DELHI July 15 (TNS): Ram Nath Kovind, 71, hailing from the Dalit caste is hot favorite to be elected Monday by national and state lawmakers to become titular head-of-state as the candidate of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He is likely to become India’s next president.

It will be only the second time, after President K.R Narayanan, who served from 1997 to 2002, that a member of the oppressed caste will assume the post.

The result is likely to be declared on Thursday. And for Modi, with one eye on re-election in 2019, it will send a significant note to an important, long despised electoral group.

Dalit is a community so marginalized they were once branded as “untouchables” — the victory of the ruling party candidate is set to fortify Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hold on power.

Dalits, whose total number is around 200 million, are among the lowliest communities in India and have customarily been pushed to the margins of society. Notwithstanding legal shield, discrimination is rife and Dalits are regularly deprived of admission to education and other openings for improvement.

Analysts guess Modi can get political benefit by helping BJP politician Kovind — a former Supreme Court lawyer and ex-governor of the eastern state of Bihar – to defeat the opposition nominee Meira Kumar, also a Dalit.

Modi has used Twitter to welcome the rise of Kovind, the son of a farmer, from “an unassuming family”.

Kumar, the daughter of freedom fighter Babu Jagjivan Ram, was a diplomat before joininging politics in 1985 and became India’s first woman speaker in 2009, but the Electoral College numbers are heavily tilted against her.

Her nomination, which trailed Kovind’s, was seen by numerous as the opposition’s effort to counter Modi’s bid to win over Dalits.