How to lose a Presidential election

Pranaav Parrth
I had never heard of Ram Nath Kovind until his name was announced as the National Democratic Alliance’s Presid-ential nominee.  Most people hadn’t. The BJP had caught everyone by surprise. Not one media house could get the name right despite months of incessant theorising and expert analysis yet everyone knew instantly why the BJP had chosen him to be the 14th President of India.
The BJP needed to offer some consolation to retain its newfound Dalit vote base which had rewarded them in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections. Dalits rallied behind the BJP because they didn’t want to miss the train of Modi’s development story while their long standing political leaders from the opposition parties failed to make the cut in the elections. Yogi Adityanath, a symbol of the Hindu pride and Thakur-Brahmin nexus ensured that of his 47 member cabinet, 21 were from the Dalit and OBC background to send out a signal that his cabinet was balanced for Uttar Pradesh’s caste demographics. The Prime Minister has at a national level, tried to woo Dalits by organising Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birth anniversary with much fanfare, dedicating BHIM- an app which sounds similar to the Dalit icon’s name while has got nothing to do with Dalits and, quoting Ambedkar in his speeches often to internalise Ambedkar’s ideology as his own.
Dalits even after seventy years of the country’s independence still find themselves on the lower rung of the socio-economic indicators in our country and are ostracised as a community. Despite reservations and recognition in the Government, Dalits still continue to be viewed from the prism of their cursed history. This however is worthless, for Dalit politicians for the longest time have treated their social ostracisation as a strategy to create a distinctive identity rather than trying to integrate it with the society as a whole. Dalit politicians always carry their historical stigma to seek votes rather than talking of economic and social inclusion.No other community in India, has managed to create a distinctive and secluded social image at a national scale than the Dalits. Dalits have managed to sustain this image through propaganda literature, devising their own social customs and the ubiquitous Ambedkar statues one can see in every public park across India. Nowhere is symbolism so strong and persuasive in any other community.
The BJP fought a symbolic election with symbolism. Ram Nath Kovind’s life weaves a narrative which is just right for the BJP to woo the Dalits and the backward castes across the country. Kovind comes from a rural agrarian background who eventually rose within the ranks to become the Prime Minister’s secretary and, later a parliamentarian. Even while Kovind could never manage to win an election on his own account, he sat in the parliament due to his credentials and background.Nitish Kumar put his own coalition at stake to go out of his way and support Kovind. A Dalit politician making his way to become the country’s first citizen was a strong narrative BJP could offer to its electorate.
Where was the Congress all this while?It seems as if the Congress gave up the will to fight even before it entered the battle. The first mistake was sitting over for the BJP to attack and decimate their guard while they had the option to take the stronger side by surprise. The idea was to pitch a candidate strong enough whose persona and narrative would’ve ensured damage on the BJP’s nominee. Given the recent spike in hate crimes across the country, much of it being directed towards the country’s Muslims, couldn’t the Congress have fielded a Muslim candidate to run for the President’s office ? If we think the counterfactual way, the Congress would have still reaped the prizes for a race they were losing. By declaring a Muslim candidate for a Presidential election nominee , the Congress could’ve assumed the moral high ground and put the BJP into a corner. The BJP would’ve only been left with two outcomes, either to endorse the Congress candidate to avoid flak for cornering a Muslim, or else field a Muslim candidate of their own. The Congress would’ve had its say despite not having the strength of numbers.
If one sees the trend for the last two Presidents, where the Congress had its say in deciding the country’s President, it never realised the symbolic value of the President’s office. The first, Pratibha Patil marked her tenure without the slightest hint of propriety and made her Presidency a free family vacation. The second, a career politician at the top of his career was given a respectful exit to make way for a party’s scion to occupy a central position in the party leadership. On the other hand,the National Democratic Alliance’s nominee in 2002 (incidentally a Muslim) was little known in the media circles, until he assumed office and redefined the office of the President. No President in the recent past ever inspired such confidence and nationalism than Abdul Kalam.
The Congress sheepishly waited for the BJP to deliver the first blow and retaliated with a half hearted response. It fooled itself to declare Meira Kumar as the contender to Ram Nath Kovind. What is more laughable is that Meira Kumar justified her candidature by saying that the fight was an ‘ideological one’ How could pitching one Dalit against the other possibly be an ideological conflict ? Even if one buys that logic, Meira Kumar’s narrative can never inspire such credibility as Kovind’s would. By any measure, Kumar is a ‘lesser’ Dalit than Kovind is. Unlike Kovind, Meira Kumar had to struggle little to fight to occupy electoral offices. Her father’s political background was enough to make her a part of political elite she was born into. Kovind struggled and rose through the ranks to hold constitutional offices and create a standing for himself. The Congress missed every opportunity to take on the BJP and eventually played to lose on the tables the BJP had set for it.
(The author studies History and Political Science at the New York University, Abu Dhabi)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here