5 things to expect from Ram Nath Kovind as he inches towards Rashtrapati Bhavan
The BJP nominee would easily win the July 17 elections for the next president of India.
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The ascension of BJP nominee, Ram Nath Kovind, for the post of the president of India is now almost certain. As the presidential elections take place today, July 17, the race to the Rashtrapati Bhavan looks rigged, squarely in favour of the ruling party. With Kovind as the first “saffron soldier” most likely to step into the hallowed presidential residence, the political theatre has become even more volatile.
The Opposition’s nominee, Meira Kumar, has been dismissed as a “dynasty Dalit”, who pales before a “self-made Dalit” in Kovind. Even though Kumar has issued a clarion call that this isn’t just about the electoral college numbers, but about a battle of starkly different ideologies competing to preserve or tear apart the idea of India. Kumar has said: "Today is a very important day. Today the collegium will take a decision. This contest is to fight for social justice, transparency, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of press. It's an ideology that binds us together. I ask members of collegium to pay heed to the voice of their conscience and keep the best interest of the country in mind.”
However, with Kovind’s election being almost certain, we need to ask what are we expecting from the next president of India. Is he going to be a rubber-stamp president a la Pratibha Patil, or will there be a focus on constitutionality like the current President Pranab Mukherjee? Will there be a smoothening of the road to Hindu Rashtra – Kovind is an RSS member – or will there be a legal adherence of laws and regulations, given Kovind has been a Supreme Court lawyer for decades now?
We give you five things that can surely be expected from a Ram Nath Kovind presidency, even though our wish-list might not exactly match those calling the shots, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP national president Amit Shah.
Sangh atop the political pyramid
The former Bihar governor has already been hailed as the “saffron soldier”, who’s surely expected to further the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ideological cause with a renewed fervor. Unlike a CM choice, say of Yogi Adityanath to lead Uttar Pradesh, Kovind is a tame pick who would willingly do the BJP/RSS’ bidding in saffronising Indian politics all the more, not hesitating to impose President’s Rule in states that the BJP/NDA is eyeing, such as West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, etc.
In addition, with an RSS face as the head of state lends further credence to the Sangh Parivar as their ideological dream now would have the much-coveted official stamp. This would mean a possible revamping of even the Rashtrapati Bhavan and its secular traditions, such as not holding festivals belonging to the minority religions, according presidential stamps to programmes bolstering the RSS worldview, and even signing on the dotted lines on issues that are controversial, not strictly constitutional.
Cow and communalism
As a member of the Sangh, Kovind is unlikely to cross the BJP government under PM Modi on issues such as cow vigilantism, beef hysteria, communally charged violence, lynchings, or online trolling of Opposition leaders, secular journalists and public figures, etc. He’s likely to keep mum as long as the Centre wants him to, while mumble vague admonitions in case the situation worsens.
However, Kovind cannot be expected to differ from the Hindu Rashtra dreams of the BJP/RSS driven government, because he himself is a believer. Though “non-controversial”, he’s nevertheless commented earlier than Islam and Christianity were alien to India, and to that extent, no harsh criticism of the state and its ministers, or of the Sangh Parivar and its leaders are coming from the next president’s office.
With the monsoon session starting today, July 17, as well as the winter session later in the year, Parliament would be debating a number of crucial bills, and recently legislated regulations, such as the one on cattle trade restrictions in the animal markets, which has been stayed by the Supreme Court.
In addition, Aadhaar-related rulings and notifications are coming once every now and then, and the matter is listed to be heard in the apex court on July 18-19. With the Centre bringing out different notifications linking Aadhaar to everything, it’s likely that Parliament is going to see an extremely difficult phase, a far cry from the cooperation when it came to passing the GST Bill earlier.
Another important Bill that’s likely to raise the temperature is the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which will be discussed in the monsoon session, and may see a number of heritage sites, particularly Islamic and Christian ones, being rejigged or demoted to suit a Sangh outlook.
However, unlike president Pranab Mukherjee, who wanted a firmly democratic dialogue to happen in Parliament, even though he signed those legislations passed as money Bills, Kovind may keep a studied silence on the debates, while signing whatever is required into law.
Ram Nath Kovind is a Dalit candidate, and will possibly be the second Dalit president after KR Narayanan. However, when it comes to hardcore Dalit politics in the country, the ground reality is very different from the tokenism of having a Dalit president, who is sure to toe the Centre’s line on Hindutva and caste politics.
While deep grievances of the Dalits and OBCs are shaping the various Dalit movements, such as led by Jignesh Mevani in Gujarat, or by the Bhim Army in Uttar Pradesh, they have very little to do with a presidential pick in Kovind, who would never challenge the entrenched caste hierarchies that inform and inculcate the Sangh.
The Dalits en masse are likely to reject Kovind as a symbol of Dalit emancipation, and this might lead to a newly energised Dalit movement all across India, eschewing established but now discredited leaders such as Mayawati.
2019 Lok Sabha polls
However, the biggest issue, which is also the goal of picking Ram Nath Kovind to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan, is definitely the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The hyperactive duo of Modi-Shah have calculated to the last mile and the last day leading up to the next General Elections, which they want to win and resoundingly at that. The decimation of the Opposition would be the aim and objective of their round-the-clock electioneering, and it’s likely that Kovind is used to further the cause of the BJP/RSS in achieving that goal.
As president, Kovind can give out a number of signals, both during his ceremonial speeches, as well as in signing in legislations to turn them into laws, imposing President’s Rule in unwieldy states where communal tensions would be heightened as the elections approach.
This would also have an impact in the Assembly elections slated later this year, such as in Gujarat, as well as next year, such as in Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Tripura.