NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind became the first BJP member to be elected as the President of India on Thursday after receiving an overwhelming majority of votes. He defeated Opposition candidate Meira Kumar after garnering 66 percent of the votes in the Electoral College.
He will be the second Dalit leader after KR Narayanan to hold the top constitutional position and will be sworn in on 25 July. He is also the first leader from Uttar Pradesh to be elected the president.
His victory was touted as a victory of the marginalised and the downtrodden by BJP president Amit Shah.
Dalit leaders hailed the victory and said that the president-elect must speak for the community. Charu Bahri quoted BJP leader Udit Raj in this Firstpostarticle as saying, “A Dalit president will boost the morale of the community and especially the confidence to participate in governance.”
TDP MP Ravindra Babu Pandula agreed and said this move will instill pride in the Dalit community. The new president, similar to Narayanan, is expected to speak up against the violence against Dalits.
Given Kovind’s difficult childhood, Dalits across India have pinned their hopes on the president-elect. They organised ‘Vijay Utsav’ where people celebrated Kovind’s victory, according to The Economic Times.
Ram Madhav writes for The Indian Expressthat the Dalit aspirations in India need newer representations and leaders like Kovind represent that new leadership. They represent the new age Dalit thinking centred on developmental activism of an empowered community.
Kovind’s father eked out a living for his family of nine children by running a small grocery store and he learnt his first lessons under a peepal tree. His family belongs to the community of Koris, who have traditionally been weavers. They owned no land, according to The Huffington Post.
However, after he became a Rajya Sabha MP in 1994, he used his funds to make roads, high schools for girls, a State Bank of India branch and ensured electricity meters were installed in all homes, according to Daily-O.
Kovind also has a long history in politics. He has headed the BJP’s Dalit Morcha and is among the few Dalit faces the party could boast of in it’s folds in North India. The party had nominated him as its Rajya Sabha MP from the Hindi heartland twice in the past, where he enjoyed consecutive terms from 1994 for the next 12 years till March, 2006.
During his Rajya Sabha tenure, he addressed the United Nations as a member of the Indian delegation in 2002.
In Parliament, he has served as a member of several important committees, including Parliamentary Committee on Welfare of Scheduled Castes/Tribes, Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs, Parliamentary Committee on Petroleum and Natural Gas, among others.
Kovind has also served the party as its national spokesperson in 2010. BJP even tried to project him as an alternative to BSP president Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. Then in 2015, he was appointed the Governor of Bihar.
His association with the RSS is also on account of his work with partner organisations which provide healthcare to the poor. One such group is the Divya Prem Sewa Mission in Haridwar, run by RSS pracharak Aashish Gautam to help lepers and their families. Kovind reportedly made a donation of Rs 25 lakh to the mission in 2000, according to The Huffington Post report.
Crusader for education
Kovind is a lawyer by profession and is a commerce graduate from Kanpur University. Having cleared the civil services exams, he opted out when he couldn’t get into the coveted IAS cadre and was offered the allied services instead, according to The Indian Express report.
He has served as the Central Government Advocate in Delhi High Court from 1977 to 1979 and Central Government Standing Counsel in Supreme Court from 1980 to 1993.
Kovind has worked hard in spearheading the cause of education. He has emphasised on the development of basic infrastructure for education in rural areas by helping in construction of school buildings in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, according to The Deccan Chroniclereport. He has also sponsored the education of at least two or three children of leprosy patients every year.
Kovind has also served as a member of the Board of Management of Dr BR Ambedkar University, Lucknow. He was also a member of the Board of Governors of Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata. He has also worked towards providing free legal aid to the weaker sections of the society.
It remains to be seen if Kovind will translate his post into working for the Dalits or his win will remain symbolic.