By choosing Ram Nath Kovind as its candidate for the Indian Presidency, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), spear headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has hit many birds with one stone, writes P.K.Balachandran in Daily Express
The choice of a Dalit – a member of India’s “lowest” caste, previously considered “untouchable” but now considered politically very “potent” – ensures victory in a political culture where no political party will dare reject a Dalit candidate off hand.
The “Dalit card” which can cut across political parties, comes in handy at this point of time when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is slightly short of votes in the electoral college comprising elected members of parliament and the provincial legislatures.
The NDA has 48.10% of the votes, and the opposition, including the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), has 51.90%.
The BJP’s election managers led by Amit Shah hope that Dalits across the party divide, and political parties wedded to “social justice”, will defy any diktat to vote for a combined opposition rival candidate and support Kovind instead.
Indeed, Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, who heads the anti-BJP Janata Dal, a party wedded to social justice and the upward mobility of Backward Castes, has already pledged support to Kovind.
A section of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kzgagam (ADMK) led by former Chief Minister O.Panneersevam, has also come out in support of Kovind. It is likely that the AIADMK faction which is in power in Tamil Nadu, and led by Chief Minister Edapadi Palaniswamy, is expected to go along with the BJP simply because the weak regime needs the goodwill of the Central government headed by strong man Narendra Modi to survive.
Actually, Kovind is a Dalit only in name. He is, in fact, a long standing activist of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization which underplays caste inequalities and is working to melt all caste identities to form a single “Hindu” identity. The RSS provides the BJP its ideological gravitas.
Hindutwites discourage the taking up of issues of caste discrimination and caste conflicts because these issues jeopardize Hindu unity by stressing internal differences. The RSS believes that differences among Hindus will be exploited by non-Hindus to weaken them and Hindu-majority India.
Kovind’s RSS or Hindutwa links will not be generally publicized in order not to drive away hard core Dalit voters or social justice campaigners. But they will be stressed in gatherings of the upper Hindus castes. The majority community should say that Kovind is actually one of them though born in a “Dalit” family.
The BJP-NDA will also exploit some discrepancy in Kovind’s caste status and identity.
The Koli sub-caste to which Kovind belongs, has different statuses in different provinces of India. Kolis are Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, but are classified as “Other Backward Castes” in Gujarat.
In Gujarat, the Kolis are a powerful political force accounting for 18% of the population. There are other provinces in North and Western India where Kolis are present such as Maharashtra some of whom are Buddhist converts. In fact, there is an all India Koli organization, the Akhil Bharatiya Koli Samaj, of which Kovind is President.
Therefore, Kovind will help the BJP-led NDA tap into the Other Backward Classes category also. As a category, the OBCs are the majority grouping in India. If the Dalits are 15% reservation in government jobs, educational institutions and elected bodies, the OBCs are given 27%.
The BJP will also exploit a tendency among India’s Dalits to move up the Hindu social ladder by adopting the dominant Sanskritic culture and adopting Brahminical values. The Dalits are not in revolt against the Hindu caste system, but want an honorable place in it.
“There is no rush to get out of the system.There is, on the other hand, a rush to get into the system” said former Delhi University sociologist Prof. Jit Singh Uberai.
Therefore ,while leftist Dalits totally oppose the caste system and decry Hindu values, the majority of Dalits in India want to be in the Hindu fold and observe its norms.
The post independence system of giving the Dalits 15% reservations in government jobs, and educational institutions to Hindu Dalits, and the denial of these to the Dalits who had converted to Christianity or Islam, has helped Dalits remain in the Hindu fold, largely.
(The featured picture at the top shows BJP’ Presidential candidate as an Hindutwa man)