Ram Nath Kovind as President: Modi outwits Opposition, but it's a sad day for Advani

The presidential election has thrown up astonishments in the past too, both from Congress and BJP.

 |  5-minute read |   21-06-2017
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In month’s time India will have a new President. The capital was rife with rumours and speculations about who it might be. The ruling NDA coalition, led by the BJP, appointed a three-member committee consisting of senior leaders Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu, and Arun Jaitley to come up with a name by June 23, before PM Modi’s trip to the US.


The name that they have announced on June 19 is that of Ram Nath Kovind, current governor of Bihar. Kovind, a lawyer by training, has been two-term member of the Rajya Sabha, hails from Kanpur, and is a Dalit.

The PM’s Twitter handle described him thus: “farmer’s son comes from a humble background. He devoted his life to public service and worked for poor and marginalised. With his illustrious background in the legal arena, Kovind’s knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation.”

Kovind’s anointment has taken most pundits and pollsters by surprise. But the presidential election has thrown up astonishments in the past too, both from the Congress and the BJP sides. Consider the choice of Pratibha Devi-Singh Patil in 2007. Apparently, the then governor of Rajasthan herself did not know till she had a phone call from Sonia Gandhi.

The decision to make Patil the first woman president of the country was obviously a last-minute one. It hit a politically-right button, though Patil’s tenure is hardly remembered as a gender-bender. Patil, non-controversial and compliant, was favoured as an Indira Gandhi loyalist; she had tended to Mrs Gandhi when the latter had been out of power and hospitalised.

kovindbd_062117111450.jpg Nitish Kumar has already tweeted his personal happiness, but reserved his party’s decision on whether to support Kovind or not.

Dr Karan Singh, who parted with Mrs Gandhi after the Emergency, though a much better candidate, was bypassed. But possibly the most surprising as also the most successful choice in recent years was APJ Abdul Kalam. The NDA’s 2002 candidate was completely out of the box. Kalam wasn’t even a public figure, much less a politician or governor of a state.

Krishan Kant, widely tipped to be the BJP consensus candidate, it seems, even had a confirmation call from the then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee. Kalam’s elevation, thus, took the whole country by surprise. But he proved to be our most successful and charismatic head of state since the hoary days of Rajendra Prasad and Radhakrishnan.

The Opposition, if fully united, would command 52.5 per cent of the electoral college’s 10.99 lakh votes. Nothing would please them more than to trump the government on this crucial issue. Not only would it be sweet revenge, but also a desperate move towards cohesion.


The imperative, as AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal remarked, is “unite or perish.” However, using this opportunity to mount an attack on the government is difficult. Especially as Modi has already projected Kovind as “a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised.”

Moreover, with TRS (two per cent), AIADMK (5.39 per cent) and YSR Congress (1.53 per cent), and BJD (2.99 per cent) already pledging their support to Kovind, the NDA’s share of electoral votes has already gone up to 57.85 per cent. More are likely to fall in line by the time this column appears.

For all practical purposes, it’s a done deal. The Opposition’s dreams of contesting, let alone defeating the NDA candidate, have begun to fade.

Which brings us to the moot point: what about those who didn’t make it, especially the veteran BJP leader, LK Advani? There were conflicting reports in the press over the latter. One version claimed that Advani’s name was proposed by Modi himself at the Somnath Trust Meeting on March 8. It would be a fitting “gurudakshina” from Modi to Advani, the report added.

But, according to contrary reports, no such proposal was made; indeed, posters in favour of Advani, which had appeared at the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road, were pulled down. Advani, some argue, has been in the camp opposed to Modi in 2014, then why should he be in the reckoning?


It will be a sad day for Advani and his loyalists. Advani, with his RSS background, unmatched parliamentary and political record, and seniority was, according to senior leaders like Shatrughan Sinha, BJP’s best candidate.

According to this camp, Advani’s vast experience and sagacity would also have made him acceptable to several members of the Opposition. He would have united the old and the young divisions of the BJP, thus healing the perceived breach and factionalism in the party.

Advani’s supporters would argue that if Vajpayee became PM, it is only fitting poetic justice that Advani become President. After all Advani, along with Vajpayee, built the party, steering its fortunes through adversity. But, the contrary view is that Advani, standing trial for the conspiracy to destroy the Babri Masjid, is ineligible; moreover, he is to be 90 this November, which goes against him. However, such discussions are purely academic.

Now that the choice has been made, there will be a flurry of write-ups, even quickie biographies of Kovind, with support being drummed up in his favour. The Opposition is flummoxed, with predictable carping about Kovind’s RSS background.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has already tweeted his personal happiness, but reserved his party’s decision on whether to support Kovind or not. The Congress view is expected any minute, so this political pot-boiler may not be over.

But, once again, the Modi camp has outmanoeuvred and outwitted its critics.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read: Will Modi-Shah succeed in dividing Opposition with Ram Nath Kovind?


Makarand R Paranjape Makarand R Paranjape @makrandparanspe

The writer is director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The views are personal.

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