By Biswaraj Patnaik in Puri, July 2, 2017 : When BJP-led NDA announced Ramnath Kovind’s name for President, countless people of India kept gaping as to who he is, just the way Pratibha Patil had caused across the populace when the UPA guys ignored Dr Abdul Kalam for a second term to accommodate a nondescript woman for the highest post.

Now words go around about Dalit card. Both the UPA and NDA appear in a hurry to woo the oppressed backward caste voters, who are fairly big in number. This time, UPA too has decided to pitch a so called Dalit called Meira Kumar– woman of great substance, though to confuse the oppressed voters of India. Fortunately, the other national or regional political outfits have not put up Sushri Mayawati whose shoes were seen being polished by an upper caste, oppressor class DIG of police, when she was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

The ‘Dalit card’ considered trump is in fact a gross misnomer today as the candidates chosen are princely in stature and lifestyle.

Dalit, meaning ‘oppressed’ is a defiantly self-chosen political expression for the members of untouchable castes in India. Mahatma Gandhi had called them ‘Harijan’ (loved by Lord Hari or Vishnu). But reformer B. R. Ambedkar did not like the name; so he popularised the term ‘Dalit’. Now using ‘Harijan’ for anybody in public is considered a crime. Some of the Dalit champions created a fifth ‘varna’ called ‘Panchama’.

BP Maurya, a so called Dalit activist says, “So long as untouchability is not completely removed, a name to distinguish is required and an inoffensive name is any day better than one that stinks in the nostrils. “Incidentally, the Scheduled Castes, as they prefer to be known, are included in a schedule prepared under Article 341 of the Constitution. With customs varying from region to region, a caste that may be designated as a scheduled one in one state may not be so in another.

Since to be considered a Dalit, one has to be impoverished due to oppression by the upper caste rich and powerful, be illiterate, some kind of bonded labour or daily-wage worker or perpetually hungry and homeless, six months elder sister Meira

Kumar or kid brother Kovind can never be put under the category of ‘Dalit’.

Meira is a former career diplomat, and a five-time popularly elected Member of Parliament. She was elected unopposed as the first woman Speaker of Lok Sabha and served from 2009 to 2014. Kumar is the daughter of Babu Jagjivan Ram, a former Deputy Prime Minister of India. She studied at Cambridge University before joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1973. She served as a Cabinet Minister in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of Manmohan Singh’s Congress led Government (2004–2009).

After graduating in law from a Kanpur college, Ramnath Kovind passed the civil services exams on his third attempt, but was selected for an allied service instead of IAS. Thus he chose to practice law.

He was Central Government Advocate in the Delhi High Court from 1977 to 1979 and served as a Central Government standing counsel in the Supreme Court from 1980 to 1993, became an advocate-on-record of the Supreme Court of India in 1978, practiced in the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court for about 16 years until 1993.

He was also enrolled as an advocate in 1971 with the bar council of Delhi. As an advocate he provided free legal aid to weaker sections of society, women and the poor under the Free Legal Aid Society in New Delhi. Interestingly, he also served as the personal assistant of Prime Minister of India Morarji Desai between 1977 and 1978. He joined the BJP in 1991; was president of the BJP Dalit Morcha between 1998 and 2002 and head of the All-India Koli Samaj.

He also served as national spokesperson of the party for quite some time. He donated his ancestral home in Derapur to the RSS. He contested from Ghatampur and Bhognipur (both in Uttar Pradesh) assembly constituencies on the BJP ticket to lose in both the elections.

For all this, both have ceased to be Dalit right from their birth as the parents were never oppressed and people did not once hate to touch them. On the contrary, because of enviable quality life style, upper caste people craved to touch them, serve them and brush shoulders with them at any given opportunity that came their way. Their high status stands even better today.

There is reason to believe that their family members may be oppressing or exploiting the upper caste employees at home- the driver, the cook, the secretarial staff, the messenger and the errand runner et al. So the Dalit card played by the NDA as well as UPA strategists is all hogwash and crap.

All said and done, the NDA outfit might walk away with victory and Kovind may occupy the Raisina hill palace, due to own strength and external support, but they could have done better with a non political dignitary like Atal Bihar Bajpayee had done by choosing Dr Kalam as President of India. Sectarian politicians can never make great head of state as being impartial would only lead to internal conflicts and home fighting. Pratibha Patil as the first woman president proved to be a disaster.

Even Pranab Mukherjee was under moral pressure to serve the UPA masters to pay back obligations. He must have relaxed only after the Congress–lead UPA was ousted in 2014. There was proposal from many decently knowledgeable Indian from within and abroad to offer President’s office to Azim Premji, a great ‘business-statesman-philanthropist’ with a grand vision. Incidentally, he has given away Rs 27,514 crore worth of stakes in charity for the upliftment of the oppressed communities (Dalits) of India.

The whopping amount is more than half of lifetime’s earning by sheer hard work and dedication, ethics never having been compromised even once. Premji who leads a simple life style, is highly literate, techno–savvy and people-friendly. Most importantly, he is from a minority faith, which would have worked wonders.

Highly respectable celebrities say Premji is also glamorous as he is an eloquent orator and a regular commentator on critical public issues and developments. He understands the importance of affordable education, healthcare and shelter for all, infrastructure and public goods all around. That Premji can never become President is a known truth; but the Modi administration can do great service to humanity by inducting him into some planning wing like the Niti Aayog which will gain from the experience of a true thinker, planner, doer an donor.

The blind support from many national and regional political parties is obviously for future benefits. But the respectable support from an all-powerful BJD in Odisha is based on divine principles of ‘give and take’. It may be recalled here that the NDA guys had backed the BJD-proposed candidate for president PA Sangma in 2012.

They had done only to oppose Pranab Mukherjee for opposing sake. But BJD is avoiding being branded betrayer. Besides, Ramnath Kovind appears to be fair and fine. May be Nitish Kumar’s support has prompted many to follow suit, although the Bihar chief minister has lost public support considerably for remaining pally-pally with incorrigible Lalu Yadav and his family that has looted the ordinary people across the country as evident in the fodder scam and land deal cases.

If comparisons between Kovind and Kumar are made, Kovind appears to be less exposed than Meira who has seen the world as a diplomat and won in popular elections. Kovind is probably more sober and quieter for his very humble farming class upbringing. Meira Kumar is obviously more glamorous than Ramnath and believably more secular.

Kovind cannot ever rise above the RSS ideologies, as that may lead to his unceremonious dismissal from the non-secular fold for good. Meira is likely to be smarter on the Constitutional clarity because she has beenable to lap up an IFS cadre job and been the Lok Sabha speaker for a full term. Kovind could only achieve a lesser Allied service and been a lawyer.

Though not always true, but it is common knowledge that top level bureaucrats and diplomats are smarter and sharper in picking up basics in all matters. Not surprisingly, they can explain better and put to use the rule of law ingredients when necessary.

Meira was an UPA leader all along; as speaker she could only manage to remain silent when expected to turn down illogical demands by ally members or put down members from the home fold. Ramnath can’t be assessed as the occasion has not come up yet. But between the two, Meira may be a slightly better face in the international arena with her knowledge of international equations and English speaking skills.
Hopefully, the political class would choose the right President who can portray the picture of India in perfectly respectable colours across the globe.