In what could be termed as a calculated, but predictable strategy to counter PM Narendra Modi’s ‘masterstroke’ of nominating non-controversial Dalit leader Ram Nath Kovind for the post of President, the Congress-led opposition yesterday pitted another Dalit leader Meira Kumar as its nominee for the highest constitutional office in the country. The decision to field Kumar against Kovind was taken on Thursday during a meet of 17 opposition parties, which included Congress, NCP, RJD, RLD, CPI, CPI(M), DMK, National Conference, Trinamool Congress, BSP, SP, JD-S, RSP, JMM, Kerala Congress, IUML and AIUDF.
The selection of Meira Kumar as opposition presidential candidate was predictable, not just because her name was doing the rounds ever since NDA announced Kovind’s candidature, but also because the Congress saw it as the only answer to the understanding that political parties in India – where caste matters more in elections over jobs, health care, education and other issues – would find it tough to oppose a Dalit face. Nevertheless, the opposition’s decision on Thursday has turned the race for the Rashtrapati Bhavan into a ‘My Dalit’ vs ‘Your Dalit’ fight.
BJP Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind (72), who hails from Kanpur Dehat, is a two-term member of the Rajya Sabha, and has also served as the chief of the BJP's Scheduled Castes Morcha from 1998 to 2002. An advocate by profession, Kovind was made the Governor of Bihar two years ago after the NDA took power at the Centre in May 2014. On the other hand, Meira Kumar (72), a Maha Dalit, hails from Bihar’s Sasaram. Besides, she is the daughter of former deputy Prime Minister Babu Jagjivan Ram, a towering Dailt face in the then national politics. She was elected unopposed as the first woman Speaker of Lok Sabha and served from 2009 to 2014. She has also served as the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment of in Manmohan Singh's Congress-led government (2004–2009).
While the opposition is well within its rights to counter NDA’s Dalit card with one of its own, here are how the numbers stack up now. Given that Ram Nath Kovind enjoys full support from all NDA parties and also from some of the non-NDA ones, including Janata Dal (United), BJD and AIADMK (both factions), his election to the top post appears almost certain. The NDA, including Shiv Sena and the PDP of Jammu and Kashmir, commands the support of 48.93 per cent in the Electoral College made up of MPs and MLAs. With the backing of parties outside the alliance like TRS (2 per cent), AIADMK (5.39 per cent), YSR Congress (1.53 per cent) and BJD (2.99 per cent), the NDA's support is expected to reach nearly 63 per cent and cross the half way mark comfortably in the July 17 battle, with JD-U contributing 1.91 per cent.
On the other hand, back-of -the-envelope calculations show that the 17 parties who have unanimously agreed to Meira Kumar’s name are short of well over 1,70,000 votes to get their candidate elected for the top job. A rough calculation of the value of votes of the 17 parties who have pledged support to Meira Kumar shows their total adding up to 3,70,556, well below the required mark.
As per rules, a candidate would need 1 more than half of the total votes polled to secure a win in the presidential election. Assuming all votes (the total strength of Electoral College in 2017 is 10,98,903) are polled, a candidate would at least need 5,49,451.5 + 1 votes to win the election. NDA’s Ram Nath Kovind, who is well over the 50 per cent of total eligible votes, is thus in a rather comfortable situation and should sail through, unless some NDA constituents and the parties who have decided to support its candidate decide otherwise. Be it Ram Nath Kovind or Meira Kumar, whoever emerges victorious in next month’s contest, the country is all set to get its second Dalit President. KR Narayanan, a Keralite, was the first Dalit to serve as the President of India. He was the 10th President and remained in office from 1997 and 2002. The result of this year’s presidential election will be declared on July 20, four days before the term of incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee ends.
Tally of 17 parties supporting opposition presidential candidate Meira Kumar:
|Parties||MLAs||MPs||Assembly Votes||Parliament Votes||Total|