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India’s Presidential Election - Hindutva and the Dalit Question

Wednesday June 28, 2017 6:11 PM, Syed Ali Mujtaba,

India's President Election

India's Presidential election on July 17 is going to be a Dalit vs Dalit affair. After the NDA picked up Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, as their Presidential candidate, the opposition announced former Lok Sabha Speaker; Meira Kumar, an iconic Dalit as its candidate, making the contest for the country’s highest post, a battle royal between Dalit vs Dalit.

In the selection of the two Dalit candidates, by the respective political formations, the message is loud and clear that this time the Presidential election is going to a referendum on the Dalit question. As to how Dalits fit into the BJP’s Hindutva version of caste pantheon and the how the Congress treats Dalits in its version of secularism.

According to the 2011 Census, 16.6 per cent of India's population is Dalits or SCs. That's nearly 20.14 crore people. Dalit means "oppressed" in Sanskrit and "broken/scattered" in Hindi. It is a self-chosen political name given to the members of the lower-castes who were excluded from the four-fold Varna system and formed the unmentioned fifth Varna in the Hindu caste system. The name Dalit has been popularized by the reformer B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956) in the twentieth century.

The NDA’s Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind is has handpicked for the post for his social identity and his political affiliation to the BJP that panders to the ideas of the RSS, the fountain head of Hindutva ideology. A small time lawyer from UP, he has been made the governor of Bihar only for his loyalty to the BJP and the RSS.

In comparison to Kovind, Meira Kumar is much towering figure. She is the daughter of Babu Jagjivan Ram, India's iconic alit leader who have been part of freedom struggle and a minister in successive Congress governments. Mera Kumar belongs to Indian Foreign Service and had held post of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or the lower house. She is a Congress leader and swears by its ideology in its letter and spirits.

Well the election for the President of India takes places through an electoral college. The total strength of the collegium which votes to elect the President comprises all elected MPs and members of legislative assemblies of all states and UTs of Delhi and Puducherry.

The total vote value comes to; 10, 98,903. A candidate needs 50 per cent plus votes to win the poll. The halfway mark is 5, 49,452 votes. The vote weightage of an MLA depends on the population of the state he or she represents.

With the battle lines drawn in the first-ever Dalit versus Dalit presidential contest, the odds are heavily stacked in favor of the BJP candidate Kovind who is set to get around 7 lakh votes. This is around two-thirds of the total 10, 98,903 votes of the Electoral College. It is over 62 per cent votes.

Kovind’s chance of registering a comfortable win is touted because some of the major non-NDA parties like; the JD-U, the BJD, the AIADMK, the TRS and the YSR-Congress have extended their support to him. As per vote projections after some non-NDA parties extended their support to the BJP nominee Kovind is assured of 6, 82,677 votes.

On the other hand, the joint opposition candidate, Meira Kumar has 3, 76,261 committed votes, which is 34 per cent and one-third of the total collegium vote. Even after the support of many regional parties like the RJD, the SP and the BSP and the TMC and the CPI-M, she is likely to bag only around 4 lakh votes.

Even around 39,965 votes of fence sitting parties like the AAP, the INLD, the AIMIM and some Independents, who have not yet opened their cards about which candidate to back, tilts towards her, it will not make any difference to the outcome of the poll.

Of the total 776 MPs in the Presidential election collegium, Kovind has the support of 524 that includes 337 of the BJP, while his opponent Meira Kumar has the support of only 235. The value of one MP vote is 708 votes. So, the NDA nominee Kovind will get 3, 70,992 MPs votes and 3, 11, 685 votes may come from state legislators.

Even though after B. R Meira Kumar may have high credentials for being a Dalit President but the irony is she may not occupy the highest office of the country only because of electoral compulsions. As of now she is having only 1, 66,380 votes of MPs and the remaining 2, 09,881 committed votes for her are coming from legislators in states if added together falls much short of the figures that will be pocketed by the NDA Presidential candidate.

The opposition aware of the chances of Meira Kumar losing the July 17 Presidential election is now making it an ideological battle. It’s pitching for the better of the two candidates and canvasing that Meira Kumar stands much tall in stature than NDA nominee Kovind.

The opposition wants the voting to take place on Dalit question and not on the party lines. It is evoking the call of the consciousness to vote for the better Dalit leader than caste the ballot on party lines. This is because voting is done through a secret ballot and the party whip does not apply for the Presidential election.

Which way the election of the President of India will tilt mainly will depend on the campaign strategy of the contestants of the ruling party and the opposition, but the Dalit vs Dalit contest has thrown open some interesting questions to we the people of India.

Will the aspirations of the Dalits be assuaged in the Presidential election 2017? If an open voting by only the Dalits takes places, can BJP nomine Ram Nath Kovind, can get 62 per cent of votes?

If not, then both the BJP and the Congress are equally responsible for fooling the Dalits making the Presidential election a Dalit vs Dalit affair.

The Presidential election 2017 is a contest between two political parties. It’s not a battle between Hindutva vs. Congress ideas on the Dalit question.

Even if Ram Nath Kovind becomes the President, it’s not that the Dalit question has been decided in favor Hindutva. It can never be construed as the true representation of the aspirations of the Dalit in India.

By making the Presidential election a Dalit vs Dalit contest, no political formation is willing to call a spade a spade, everyone is viewing this election with its own prism. This is the bitter truth and the harshest reality of the Presidential election of India.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at Abridged version appeared in civil service India.]

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