The high-stakes battle called presidential election has hotted-up with Kovind
The selection of Ram Nath Kovind as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for the presidential election is significant for more than one reason. It establishes once again prime minister Narendra Modi’s ability to spring a surprise. In this case, there was utmost secrecy in the manner in which Kovind’s name was finalised by him and BJP president Amit Shah. The same was the case when Yogi Adityanath was named as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh after the assembly elections in the state, or in the selection of Sumitra Mahajan as Lok Sabha Speaker.
In Kovind’s case, it is apparent that the Congress party and others in the anti-BJP alliance were taken by surprise. Perhaps, it was their expectation that they would be taken into confidence before the announcement, especially since a three-member delegation of the ruling party had met opposition party leaders with the ostensible purpose of building a consensus on the presidential candidate. This was not an unreasonable expectation. The BJP would have done well to discuss the name with top opposition parties and evolved a consensus around Kovind, who is seen as a non-controversial figure. However, in the rough and tumble of politics, it is not unusual for such courtesies to be given the go-by. As for the opposition, it would be within its rights to nominate a candidate for the polls, even as the numbers stack up for the ruling party candidate. The effort must, however, be made to ensure that this becomes a credible contest and not one that is done out of pique. Often reputations of venerable persons are squandered over what is sometimes described as a contest on a matter of principle. If the opposition finds a candidate, maybe a Dalit, a flourishing democracy like India should not have any problems in a healthy contest for the highest seat of power through the well established electoral college.
For some opposition parties, that matter of principle might have to do with Kovind’s politics and his background. He has been actively associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a moderate Hindu leader. He represents what is now being increasingly highlighted as an alternative political narrative and an alternative school of thought. To his political and ideological opponents, therefore, his candidature could be one that pits the so-called saffron right against the secular forces.
Meanwhile, it appears the selection of Kovind has hit opposition unity as well. While it had been speculated for some time that the BJP might field a Dalit candidate, Kovind’s appointment did appear to have caught some in the opposition ranks off-guard. The Bahujan Samaj Party, for instance, has said it would not be possible for it to vote against a Dalit candidate. Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav has already pledged support to the ruling dispensation’s candidate.
The biggest difficulty for the opposition has been to keep its flock together for the next two years given that already several non-NDA parties were not averse to throwing their weight behind Modi–Shah in the presidential elections. For instance, the ruling Telugu Desam Party and the main opposition party in Andhra Pradesh, YSR Congress, have endorsed Kovind’s candidature. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar may be one to watch out given his initial positive reaction to Kovind’s selection as the NDA nominee. The Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik, TRS supremo and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao have already broken ranks with the opposition. A host of splinter and smaller parties could well shift away from the opposition alliance. These developments have hit the opposition where it hurts — numbers in the electoral college. Faced with these odds, it would be interesting to see whether they have a Plan B and a surprise of their own to turn this into a contest. So far, only individual voices have emerged on fielding a combined opposition candidate for the presidential elections.