A long time ago BR Ambedkar observed “Caste may be bad. Caste may lead to conduct so grossly as to be called man’s inhumanity to man. All the same, it must be recognized that the Hindus observe caste not because they are inhuman or wrong-headed. They observe caste because they are deeply religious.” I don’t know how many of you agree with the statement but one thing is clear that the caste factor continues to influence elections in India, be it a gram panchayat poll or for that matter, the battle for president.
So it will be a Dalit versus Dalit contest for President Election. The Opposition has decided to field former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar against NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential election. Many media report termed it as a master stroke by ruling BJP to named Kovind as its presidential nominee which had left the political party who claims to be the sole representatives of social justice in guessing mode and this is the reason the opposition has named another Dalit leader with adding an extra qualification of being a woman. Firstpost, a news agency termed it as a copy-cat move to counter BJP’s presidential pick, Kovind who is also a Dalit leader from Uttar Pradesh.
The leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad called her a “crusader for social justice” and added that the Opposition couldn’t have picked a better candidate. But the major question is that why the Congress doesn’t nominate this crusader when they were in power and had a clear chance to win the election? BJP leaders dismissed Meira Kumar’s name as predictable saying that all that the unimaginative opposition had was a “dynastic Dalit”, a clear me-too pick against their “meritorious Dalit” and this was the politics of “tokenism”. One of its leaders GVL Rao goes on saying that ‘When the Congress had the opportunity to elect a Dalit president when they were in power they did not find Meira Kumar suitable. But when the defeat of the opposition candidate is certain they have fielded her as a scapegoat. This clearly shows that it has no commitment to elect leaders from marginalized sections to high offices and had decided to field her purely done as a token exercise.’
In the main, while Sitaram yechury calls it as a war of ideology which Seems to me like we are in a cold war situation and fighting for the supremacy of liberal democracy with capitalism over communism with socialism. But there is nothing new in it. they also rejected the consensus for Dr. Kalam nomination in 2002 on a fear that the renowned scientist may prove to be a “rubber stamp” President.
Apart from this caste line, this election has several other aspects also and the most important of all is ‘opposition unity.’ It sounds good in a democracy when we hear the term ‘opposition unity’. It is an experiment which has not been successful in Indian political system. The unity moves in the Opposition is a welcome effort because democracy needs a strong and sound Opposition. The only way to stop the bloom of the lotus was for them to come together, forgetting their egos and personal ambitions. This was easier said than done and the same has happened when NDA declared its Presidential nominee which has put the Opposition in a dilemma and the opposition unity suffered a big blow when Nitish Kumar declared his support to NDA’s nominee. There are other non-NDA parties too who has extended support to Kovind Candidature among them is TRS, BJD, YSRCP and both faction of AIADMK.
What this shows is opposition unity is as loose as the BJP expected, with Nitish Kumar, one of the few credible faces in the opposition, publicly playing footsie with the BJP. While Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav may both insist that nothing has changed in the alliance in Bihar, the fact is that the Chief Minister’s Kovind move has altered the situation irrevocably.
Since democracy is all about numbers, let’s also look at the calculations. The total vote value of electoral college is 10,98,903 and the majority mark is anything more that 50% of the total vote that is 5,49,452 vote. Presently NDA has 5, 37.683 vote which is around 12,000 less than majority mark. Now the parties which have extended support, TRS has 22,480 votes, YSRCP has 17,666 votes, BJD has 32,892 votes, JDU has 20,935 votes, and both factions of AIADMK has 59,224 votes. Now all the numbers added together is around 7 lakhs which far more than the majority. It is interesting to note that in 2012 Pranab Mukherjee received 7, 13,763 votes and in 2007 Pratibha Patil had got 6, 38,166 votes. In spite of the majority, I am opposed to the idea that there should be a common consensus for presidential election because the beauty of democracy lies in a healthy election.
This presidential election is also important for future perspective With only two years to go for the big 2019 fight, the opposition will need to really roll up its sleeves if it is serious about trying to challenge Amit Shah and Modi.
Several opposition members have expressed that there couldn’t have been a better candidate than Meira Kumar. But it will be interesting to see that with the required number in the favor of the NDA’s pick Ram Nath Kovind, will Kumar’s candidature be able to change the game!