Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, surprised everyone when the BJP parliamentary board, in a meeting today, announced the name of Bihar's Governor Ram Nath Kovind as their pick for the Presidential elections slated to be held next month.
There were speculations that the BJP could choose from probables like external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu as its presidential nominee. But putting all those rumours to rest, the parliamentary board meeting, headed by Prime Minister Modi, stamped its approval on someone who not many may know about but has risen through the party's rank and also headed BJP's Dalit Morcha from 1998 to 2002.
Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit leader (Dalit is a term used for referring to the most marginalised community and figures lowest within the Hindu caste hierarchy), is a farmer's son and comes from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. He came to Delhi and practised as a lawyer. Before joining the BJP, he worked as the private secretary of former Prime Minister Morarji Desai.
Kovind was twice elected to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Parliament) in 1994 and again in 2000 from Uttar Pradesh.
If elected, Ram Nath Kovind will be the second president of India from a Dalit community after K R Narayanan and would also be the first full-time President from India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh. Although Zakir Husain, the third President of India, was a prominent political face from the state of Uttar Pradesh, he was born in Hydearbad.
When Narendra Modi-led BJP government sent him to Bihar in 2015 as the Governor ahead of the assembly elections, the idea was to tap into the Dalit votes which were crucial to win the elections. The elections, however, went in favour of the JD(U) and RJD who cobbled an alliance to form the government in Bihar.
Kovind, whose association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is well known, is being seen as someone who could further boost the BJP-RSS combine's idea of uniting the wider Hindu Samaj (community). This could help improve BJP's prospects in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections which are just two years away.
Moreover, it would be difficult for the opposition led by the Congress party to oppose a Dalit face for the country's top job.
With the support of many regional parties including Telangana Rashtra Samiti and YSR Congress, the BJP is confident of forming a consensus around Ram Nath Kovind as the republic's next President.