BJP’s stunning volte face on appeasement politics – N.V. Krishnakumar

Ram Nath Kovind, Narendra Modi, Amit Shah

N. V. KrishnakumarIn choosing Mr Ram Nath Kovind as its nominee, what is the message of the BJP and its constituents in parliament to the electorate of India and in particular to the Dalit community? – N. V. Krishnakumar

As is their wont, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sprung a surprise on the nation with its presidential candidate choice—Mr Ram Nath Kovind—the low profile and non-controversial Governor of Bihar.

Reportedly, Mr Kovind’s foray into politics started as an aide to former Prime Minister Mr Morarji Desai and has represented the Central Government before the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court in a legal career that has spawned over sixteen years.

Entering full-time politics in 1991 by joining BJP, he served the party as Dalit Morcha president and spokesperson. After a couple of failures in electoral contests, he was made member of parliament in Rajya Sabha from his home state of Uttar Pradesh. After his twelve-year tenure in parliament, little of his activities are known to citizens, before resurfacing in 2015 with his appointment as Governor of Bihar. This is a career synopsis of the man who soon will be elected as fourteenth President of India on 17th of  July 2017.

In caste ridden Indian politics, his selection is considered a master stroke in political circles. It dented the opposition unity with Bihar Chief Minister Mr Nitish Kumar endorsing the BJP choice. It also sent opposition parties into a tizzy who then found their own Dalit mascot for the presidential contest. In choosing Mr Ram Nath Kovind as its nominee, what is the message of the BJP and its constituents in parliament to the electorate of India and in particular to the Dalit community? Unfortunately, it is certainly not of new and developed India which Prime Minister Mr Modi espouses quite often to the youth of this country. On the other hand, it is one of appeasement politics that he professes to shun and does not mince words in condemning it.

Below the veneer of caste, it is difficult to find much in the biography of Mr Ram Nath Kovind. He represents the era of old age politics where caste held primacy. That he fought for the downtrodden, gave legal representation to marginalized, and has been the voice of poor can be found in many Supreme Court lawyers.

Being a two-time Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha does not give his life history much cache. It is widely known that loyalty is rewarded in politics and this enabled him to become the Governor of Bihar. Neither the Dalit community nor the larger electorate can claim to be impressed with the credentials of this presidential nominee.

If the BJP wanted a Dalit to reap political rewards, it should have looked outside the realm of politics. In a post-liberalized India, it is not difficult to find many rags to riches stories of Dalit individuals who have truly broken the “untouchability and victimhood” storyline that often presages the political narrative of the Dalit community. In Mr Rajesh Saraiya, the Dalits have their first billionaire businessman, whose biography is an outstanding narrative of successful Dalit entrepreneur and source of pride for the community.

Mr Milind Kamble, a highly qualified civil engineer, is the Head of the Dalit Chamber of Commerce who fought against all odds of “Dalit Victimhood” and became a successful businessman. Ms Kalpana Saroj, Chairperson of Kamini Tubes, rose from the lowest strata of society to occupy the corner office of a company that has a turnover of more than Rs 1,000 crores.

Biographies of many of today’s Dalit entrepreneurs are a story of grit, determination, overcoming odds, courage and success. Their record of fighting for immiserizing strata of society, offering education scholarships to the marginalised, encouraging the downtrodden to become entrepreneurs and offering employment to the poor are unparalleled. Choosing one of them to be President of India would have indeed sent a positive message to the Dalit community about their prospects in the Indian economy, boosted Dalit pride and would have made the Prime Minister an icon in the community.

Prime Minister Modi and BJP’s numero uno strategist Party President Mr Amit Shah realise that Dalit community support is the sine qua non to achieve governing majority in future electoral contests. As a step towards that goal, the strategy of choosing a BJP loyalist who also happens to be a Dalit is no different from that of the Congress party’s appeasement of minority community. In a post-liberalized India, political parties must realise communities are no voting monoliths.

The BJP bombarded the electorate in 2014 with the message “Appeasement towards none, Justice for all”. In choosing Mr Ram Nath Kovind for president, the party has done a volte-face on its own slogan. The choice is indeed old style appeasement politics, not the new age politics that the Prime Minister often promises the youth of India and going by the experience of Mr K. R. Narayanan, the first Dalit leader to be President of India, unlikely to yield electoral dividends. – PGurus, 26 June 2017

» N. V. Krishnakumar is a money manager and columnist in Bangalore. Tweet him at @envyk_blr.

Milind Kambal

Milind Kamble never used quota to rise in life, but understands the need for affirmative action for a community set back by centuries of discrimination. The man who set up India’s first Dalit chamber of commerce dreams of an expo in Delhi that’ll showcase backward caste enterprise.

Avinash Jagtap

From the Dalit chawl in Pune to a sprawling bungalow in upmarket Salisbury Park, Avinash Jagtap‘s journey has been rapid and phenomenal. The pipe maker, who loves to travel abroad, and has a staff of 200, says being SC and BPL is the worst that can happen to anyone.

See HERE for more Dalit success stories.