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Modi Sets the Course in Indian Politics Yet Again: The Nomination of Ram Nath Kovind

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Over the last three years of the Modi government, the one thing that has become obvious to everyone is that Modi has been dictating not just the agenda of his own party and government, but also of the Opposition. Under Modi, the Opposition has become a merely reactionary entity that ends up responding to everything that the BJP does first.

The latest instance of this is the intensely political contest for the election of the President of the country. Modi clearly caught the Opposition unawares by declaring a simple, unheard-of and sincere Mahadalit BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh – who was, till recently, the Governor of Bihar – as its Presidential candidate. Ram Nath Kovind’s choice was a masterstroke that broke up the difficult and delicate Opposition-unity-in-making in one single stroke. Both Mulayam Singh Yadav and JD (U)’s Nitish Kumar gave their support, with the latter having developed a good rapport with Kovind as the CM of Bihar. Even Mayawati was on the verge of extending support, till the Opposition too declared a Dalit as its candidate.

Predictably, the Opposition declared Dalit MP (from Congress and former Lok Sabha Speaker) Meira Kumar as its candidate. It is hardly surprising that here too the Congress – not just declared its Presidential candidate in a haste and in reaction to the BJP, after wallowing in lethargy over the last few weeks – chose to play dynastic politics. It looked towards potential leaders like Gopal Krishna Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson), Prakash Ambedkar (B.R. Ambedkar’s grandson) and Meira Kumar (Jagjivan Ram’s daughter).

Contrast this with Ram Nath Kovind – not a famous dynastic heir like the Opposition’s Dalit leaders – who rose from humble beginnings as an RSS worker, lost elections, went to Rajya Sabha and had to face the challenge of BJP’s Brahmin lobby trying to scuttle his political rise. He accepted that too and instead devoted himself to party work, without coming in the limelight. He was the one who chalked out a winning strategy for wooing Dalits back into the BJP camp in UP. And the results are visible in the UP assembly elections of this year.

Unlike famous, controversial and self-absorbed personalities like Gopal Krishna Gandhi and Meira Kumar, Kovind commands respect that cuts across party lines. When he was first made the Bihar Governor in 2015 – a Governor’s appointment is considered to be intensely political and the office of the Governor is regarded as a figurehead of the centre – Nitish Kumar publicly denounced Modi. But time changed the script and both Nitish Kumar and Kovind developed a close rapport, unlike the previous Governor appointed by the Congress who left no stone unturned to obstruct important bills sought to be passed by the Bihar Assembly.

The Message that Modi is Sending

Modi has hit several birds with one stone. Forging a consensus in the contest for the President’s office was supposed to be the first important ‘test’ of a supposedly ‘secular Opposition unity’ to thwart the BJP’s 2019 election ambitions. Clearly, Kovind’s nomination and the developments thereafter have delivered a big blow to all these ambitions.

Kovind’s candidature is expected to further propel Dalits and Mahadalits into the BJP camp. After all, the Opposition resorted to the most strenuous – and continuing – efforts to poison the Dalits against Modi and to divide the cross-caste Hindu unity that BJP is trying to build, as seen through various Dalit-centric ‘movements’ that have been publicized over the last three years, like the politics on JNU and Hyderabad campuses, the Una flogging, the phenomenon of Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani and, the latest, the most ridiculous Jai Bheem Army in UP in the aftermath of the Saharanpur incident.

That all these utilitarian, selfish and short-term movements were politically manufactured was visible in how they fizzled out and how quickly Patel and Mewani have disappeared from public memory or how Dalits voted in the UP elections. These elements have only sought to divide and use the Dalits. Modi is trying to actually uplift them and bring them within the Hindu fold.

This is just one part of the story. Through Kovind’s nomination Modi is sending out another message to his party too – only people who are quiet, uncontroversial, sincere and honest workers will be rewarded. There is no future for ambitious, loud and selfish workers. Ram Nath Kovind falls into the former category. His candidature was decided very secretively and came as a big shock not only to the BJP but even to Modi’s close Cabinet colleagues.

This was, perhaps, one of the most intensely political races to the Indian President’s office, because of its background of politics of nationalism and implications for ‘Opposition unity’ in 2019. Otherwise, the office of the President is a mere figurehead – symbolic but powerless. The only notable exception was that of India’s first Dalit President, KR Narayanan, who went out of the way to do everything possible to obstruct the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, under the garb of constitutionalism and secularism. India’s second Dalit President will play an opposite role and work towards fostering Hindu unity.

Thus, like all other events that have been taking place for the last three years, the seemingly innocent event of Kovind’s candidature – which has shaken the elements on the opposite side – reflects how the current class of politicians have become mere instruments of a destined higher power which is actively guiding this country’s future. This is seen in even the minutest political events. Despite the best efforts and applying all possible old ‘formulas’ of political ‘success’, everything – all experiments – are ending in an abject failure for the Opposition. On the other side, everything that Modi is undertaking is hitting the right mark. This is not because of capacities or incapacities of politicians, but depends on the extent to which they are receptive instruments towards the spirit of the nation that is very active now. Modi is simply such a receptive instrument. But politicians are no longer in the driving seat.

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