The stage is now set for choosing a new occupant for the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Before declaring its candidate, senior BJP leaders and members of the Modi cabinet Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu visited the offices of the Congress and even the CPI(M) to appeal for a consensus. All that the Congress said in public was that the BJP should first propose a name before seeking consensus. In another highly questionable gesture, incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee invited RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat for a lunch at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. With the opposition thus making it a BJP prerogative to set the tone and declare its Presidential candidate, the BJP sprung a surprise by choosing Ramnath Kovind, the current Bihar Governor and former Rajya Sabha MP for two successive terms from 1994 to 2006, as its nominee for Raisina Hill. The Congress-led UPA belatedly announced the candidature of former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, but by then three southern regional parties, AIADMK, TRS and YSR Congress as well as the BJD of Odisha and even JDU which is sharing power with the RJD and the Congress in Bihar had pledged their support for Ramnath Kovind.
The BJP propagandists are projecting Kovind’s nomination as a proof of the Sangh Parivar’s respect for Dalits and poor farmers of the country. In other words, the Presidential election is being used as a damage-control exercise to assuage the feelings of angry Dalits and farmers who find themselves at the receiving end of the social violence and economic policies of the Modi Raj. Kovind is from UP where Dalits are facing acute feudal oppression and violence following the ascent of Ajay Singh Bisht aka Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister. The farmers of UP are also feeling betrayed as the government is dilly dallying on the implementation of the promised loan waiver. In Madhya Pradesh, Patidar peasants faced bullets and as the incidence of peasant suicides grows alarmingly, BJP leaders call distressed peasants who take the extreme step of taking their own lives ‘cowards’ and a Minister terms loan waivers a new ‘fashion’! Meanwhile, with an eye on the forthcoming Assembly elections, the Gujarat BJP lauds Kovind’s candidature as a ‘historic recognition’ for the numerically large OBC community of Kolis (Kovind is from the Koli caste which is included in the SC category in UP and OBCs in Gujarat).
There is an unmistakable parallel between the NDA fielding a Muslim for the President post after the 2002 Gujarat genocide and a Dalit after the spate of anti-Dalit assaults in Hyderabad, Una and Saharanpur. But as a military scientist and motivator of the youth APJ Abdul Kalam had his own credentials and more crucially he did not belong to the RSS or the BJP. Kovind on the other hand is hardcore RSS, was a BJP Rajya Sabha MP for two terms and a spokesperson for the BJP before being drafted as Governor of Bihar. The period when he was in the Rajya Sabha was when Bihar witnessed the worst spate of anti-Dalit massacres perpetrated by the Ranveer Sena. President KR Narayanan had described the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre as a ‘national shame’ for Independent India, but as a Rajya Sabha MP of the BJP, Kovind had no word of condemnation against the string of massacres.
Of the 283 questions raised by Kovind during his Rajya Sabha tenure only 13 questions were addressed to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and 12 to the Ministry of Agriculture. So much for his organic ties with Dalits and farmers! Kovind revealed himself more as a spokesperson of the BJP. While rejecting the recommendations of the Ranganath Mishra Commission, he repeated the core Hindutva idea which treats Islam and Christianity as ‘alien’ religions and on this basis he argued that Dalits embracing these religions should not be entitled to the benefits of reservation.
The Presidential Election of 2017 is therefore not about a comparison of the individual credentials of the two candidates, but about saving the highest Constitutional office from the ideology of the RSS which is antithetical to the core vision of the freedom movement and essential parameters of the Constitution. It is ironical that Nitish Kumar, who had given a call for a ‘Sangh-mukt Bharat’ (RSS-free India) after winning the Bihar elections, has now rushed to support the candidature of Kovind who is the first RSS man in Indian history to have been nominated for the President’s office. The Congress has of course always been soft and defensive in the face of the Sangh-BJP ideological-political offensive, a pathological weakness that has once again been on display in the run-up to the current Presidential elections, but defenders of democracy cannot remain neutral and indifferent in this crucial battle and must rally against the Sangh-BJP campaign and candidate in the election to the highest Constitutional office at this critical juncture.
At a time when the fascist forces have stepped up their assault on democracy through unbridled corporate plunder on the economic front and daily physical and ideological attacks on Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, small nationalities and various vulnerable sections of the society, the forces of democracy must come together and use the Presidential Election as a decisive platform of resistance against the growing fascist offensive.