The decision of the Bharatiya Janata Party Parliamentary Board to pick up Bihar governor Ramnath Kovind as the NDA’s candidate for the upcoming presidential elections may well upset the apple cart of the Opposition which had been planning to find a consensus candidate of its own.
The choice of Kovind, the 71-year-old Dalit leader from Kanpur, is likely to put Opposition leaders such as Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and even Mayawati in a fix and may well undo all the efforts of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to put up a joint candidate against the NDA nominee.
A Rajya Sabha for two terms from 1994 to 2006, Kovind has been a veteran lawyer who has practised in Delhi High Court as well as the Supreme Court in the past. He has been known as an erudite and non-controversial champion of the Dalit cause whose political career has been bereft of any taint over the years. He has been a member of the parliamentary committees for SC/ST welfare, social justice and rights, law and justuce, besides being a member of the management board for Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University in Lucknow.
In the past couple of years, ever since he was appointed the governor of Bihar, Kovind has shared cordial relations with Nitish even though the Chief minister was earlier highly critical of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to send him to Raj Bhawan in Patna, a few months before the 2015 assembly elections, without consulting the state government.
Nitish had at the time charged the Centre with not having kept the state government in the loop about appointment of the new governor. But his opponents had hit back at his criticism by painting him as being anti-Dalit. They cited the ouster of a mahadalit Dalit Jitanram Manjhi as the chief minister a few months before Kovind’s appointment to buttress their point.
Kovind’s nomination as the NDA candidate will, therefore, put Nitish in a quandary, especially if the opposition decides to field a non-Dalit leader as its presidential nominee. Even Lalu might find it hard to oppose a Dalit leader without facing the risk of antagonising the most maginalised sections who account for a crucial 15 per cent vote share in his home state. Many other regional leaders -- and even the Left -- might also have to rethink about their strategy for a similar reason now.
But it will be Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav who have a bigger dilemma to contend with. Kovind is not merely a non-controversial Dalit leader but also comes from Kanpur in UP. Unless the Opposition comes up with an equally eligible Dalit leader from its ranks, the chances of a united bid by the anti-NDA parties against Kovind’s candidature, as of now, looks bleak.