All you want to know about the BJP’s Presidential candidate
The BJP’s decision to announce Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind as its candidate for the July 17 Presidential election may have come as a surprise for many. Though there were several names being speculated in the media about BJP’s pick, including Jharkhand governor Draupadi Murmu, Kovind’s name never cropped up. In fact he gained public attention only when he was appointed, in another surprising move, as the Bihar governor in August 2015, a few months before the crucial assembly election.
BJP’s decision to appoint Kovind as Bihar governor had irked Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The central government did not even inform Nitish in advance about the appointment, and later BJP leaders hailed Kovind as a “Dalit governor”, which Nitish’s JDU saw as a political move ahead of the election. “I congratulate Kovind for being appointed the new governor. He hails from the Dalit classes,” Sushil Kumar Modi, the BJP leader in Bihar said then.
Hailing from Uttar Pradesh, Kovind has always been a loyal BJP member and the party’s Dalit face in the Uttar Pradesh. A Supreme Court lawyer, Kovind was the BJP’s national spokesperson, a two-time Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh and the chief of the BJP’s SC/ST Morcha (1998 to 2002). He also represented India in United Nations (New York) and addressed United Nations General Assembly in October, 2002. He has also served as a member of several parliamentary committees, including Parliamentary Committee on Welfare of Scheduled Castes/Tribes, Parliamentary Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment among others.
Known to be close to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Kovind had campaigned for the BJP in Dalit populated areas during the 2012 elections to counter Mayawati. Rajnath wanted to project him as the BJP’s Dalit face in UP. “But the Brahmin lobby in the Uttar Pradesh BJP feared he would become another Kalyan Singh, who keeps coming and going from the party,” a BJP leader from UP told Telegraph in 2015.
Born in 1945, Kovind, haling from the Koli community, studied B.Com and law in Kanpur University. Married to Savita Kovind, he has two children, one son and one daughter. He was a central government Advocate in the Delhi High Court from 1977 to 1979 and a central government standing counsel in the Supreme Court from 1980 to 1993. A year later, he became MP. He was appointed the BJP spokesman in 2010 when Nitin Gadkari was the party president as part of a move to induct RSS loyalists within the party. According to an Asian Age report, Kovind is an RSS loyalist.
He remained loyal to the BJP throughout his political career. But it is doubtful whether he could make any inroad for the BJP among the Dalit communities in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In UP, the BJP lost the 2012 election which he campaigned with Rajnath Singh miserably. In Bihar where the dalits make up a sizable number of voters, if his appointment as governor was a political move to connect with the voters in 2015, that also didn’t produce any result for the BJP as Nitish Kumar’s Grand alliance of JDU and RJD came to power. However, by nominating him as the Presidential candidate, Narendra Modi may be trying to catch two birds with one stone. His low profile political life and Dalit identity could help the BJP win the support of some regional parties while at the same time the party will have an RSS loyalist in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.