Modi has blundered in picking Ram Nath Kovind as President and trying to be messiah of Dalits

SS Dhawan
SS DhawanJun 20, 2017 | 13:17

Modi has blundered in picking Ram Nath Kovind as President and trying to be messiah of Dalits

PM Narendra Modi has failed to recognise the opportunity that was knocking at his door and opted for a faceless and nondescript lawyer as the new occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan - one Ram Nath Kovind.  

Of course, there are two important imponderables - that Kovind is from UP and happens to be a Dalit, but more of that dreaded dependency later.


Modi badly needed to liberate himself from the optics of Hindutva. He could easily have attempted this by changing the national narrative - by creating a catchment area in which he is not seen to be tethered to the RSS.

He did not really have to reinvent himself or look for a new political construct to alter the quality of the public discourse. He only had to appoint an apolitical and seemingly neutral president, ideally one without any ideological moorings, who would instil hope in a section of the population that there is life beyond Hindutva.

Indubitably, if the PM had tried to sift through his thousands of admirers in all walks of life, he would surely have stumbled over a technocrat or a person with intellectual virtue outside the saffron brotherhood - someone who could uphold the dignity of the august office as well as chaperone the BJP's political inheritors well beyond 2019.

Say, somebody like APJ Abdul Kalam - another so-called “people's president” - who could by default become the consensual choice as well as pander to the nation's deep psychological need for a figure head.

Because this time the contest was not about individuals or about the august institution, but about giving direction to a nation that was meandering in the backwaters of Hindutva.


Though Modi claims ad nauseam that he wants a Congress-mukt Bharat, he finds it difficult to dismount the horse and keeps choreographing a familiar script - preferring handmaidens as chief ministers and now, it seems, a handpicked greying patriarch for President. 

shah-embed_062017011323.jpgApparently, Modi is convinced that public memory is proverbially short.

But resurrecting a senior citizen, who happens to be the Governor of Bihar - even keeping in mind his profile as a lawyer and chequered career as an MP - is not going to fire the imagination of a young nation of aspiring technocrats and professionals.

However, for Modi the public perception in Uttar Pradesh and the caste calculus is a far more important narrative that will unravel in the next general election. Having a Dalit President is a far more potent political symbol than having an all-pleasing prop at Raisina Hill. 

The Dalit outreach is not just a part of Modi's politics of persuasion but also a key ingredient in the larger RSS agenda of social engineering. The first indication of this had come when PM Modi made it a point to pay lip sympathy to BR Ambedkar even on his overseas visits. 


But having a Dalit head of State will neither change their dystopian reality nor the social order. Nor is the student community in Hyderabad in a tearing hurry to forget the distressing suicide by the Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula. Nor will they forget the Dalit lynchings in Gujarat or the simmering fires in Saharanpur. 

Apparently, Modi is convinced that public memory is proverbially short and such controversies don't really rankle in the collective social consciousness despite the media hyper-ventilating the issues. In any case, Kovind's appointment should assuage any residual hurt that still lingers.

And that, in turn, should create the atmospherics for Modi's proclamation as a messiah of the Dalits; and this is possibly the new political construct BJP's spin doctors are working on. 

Modi's strategies have served him well in the past. But the PM is nonetheless beginning to feel the overbearing weight of his politics of rhetoric and bluster. Also, the “dynamic’’, “decisive”, “no-nonsense” Modi is marginalising himself as he allows the forces of Hindutva to inflict their socially regressive nonsense on the nation.

Maybe, a “rubber stamp” president would give him greater room to manoeuvre in a politically fluid situation.

Last updated: June 21, 2017 | 12:07
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy