Ashok Gehlot says Ram Nath Kovind is President because of his caste, sparks row

Jaipur: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is in the eye of the storm for his remark that President Ram Nath Kovind was made the President because of caste considerations. At a press conference here on Wednesday, Gehlot told media persons that the BJP was worried about its chances in Gujarat assembly elections and the choice of presidential candidate was made with electoral prospects in mind.

“I read in an article… they got worried that they will not be able to form the government in Gujarat… then, Amit Shah decided to use a lethal weapon — make Kovind ji the President to keep the caste arithmetic correct… and Advaniji was out of the race… the nation had hoped that Advani would get what he deserved,” he said. Incidentally, Gehlot was the AICC secretary then and in charge of the Gujarat assembly election.

Soon after Gehlot addressed the media, the BJP spokesperson in Delhi called the comment “anti-Dalit, anti-poor and anti-constitutional” and demanded an apology and strong action. “It is a very low attack by the Congress against the highest constitutional functionary in the country,” the BJP said at a press conference held in Delhi within hours of the statement.

“Is the Congress party against a person who comes from a poor background and belongs to the Dalit community? President Kovind is a highly accomplished individual. This is a condemnable statement. We expect an apology and strong action,” BJP’s spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said. The Chief Minister’s Office said that it was not Gehlot’s personal opinion, he was quoting from an article he had read. Later, Gehlot tweeted:

It is very unfortunate that my comments during the press conference have been misquoted by a few media houses. I have the greatest regard for the post of President and personally for President Shri Ramnath ji whom I have met in person; I am also highly impressed with his simplicity and humbleness.’’

Kovind had succeeded Pranab Mukherjee as the President in July 2017; he is also the second Dalit president after KR Narayanan. In 2011, Ashok Gehlot, as the then Chief Minister, asked one of his ministers, Ameen Khan, to resign after he created a controversy with his remark that Pratibha Patil was “ rewarded” with the post of President for her loyalty to the Gandhi family.

Gehlot was asked to secure the resignation of Khan after the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her political secretary Ahmed Patel showed their annoyance. Gehlot then had gone to meet President Pratibha Patil and expressed his apology.

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