The National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP has pulled a huge surprise out of the bag by naming Ram Nath Kovind, currently Governor in Bihar, as its presidential candidate, after weeks of speculation in which this name did not figure even remotely. Kovind, a Dalit and a lawyer who practised in the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court for 16 years after which he was a Rajya Sabha MP twice before he was catapulted to gubernatorial office, is expected to bring dividends to the BJP through the Dalit vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. An experienced administrator, he was once executive assistant to late prime minister Morarji Desai. The signal to Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, and across the Hindi heartland, is critical to sustaining success in the upcoming elections in some states and finally in the 2019 Lok Sabha contest.
Shrewdly, the BJP leadership has calculated that if in 2019 the Samajwadi Party and the BSP along with the Congress come to an understanding to take on the BJP in UP, Kovind as a torchbearer of Dalits in the country could be a major asset. The imminent presidency of Kovind is also a landmark in the Sangh Parivar’s project of Hindu consolidation. Through the Hindutva surge of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the RSS and its various arms sought to broaden their social base. Ram Nath Kovind’s candidature is a further step in that direction. His nomination will presumably attract some regional parties too to support him so as to be on the right side of Dalits.
The Vice-President nominee of the BJP is yet to be named and it could well be that the chosen one may be a Brahmin or from another forward caste in a bid to keep that base of the BJP intact. The Opposition has been left behind in the race because it is still working on a name to be put up as a common candidate. It would be interesting to see how it seeks to counter the BJP move.