Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Kovind will make an ‘exceptional President’and his legal background will ‘benefit the nation’. In a series of tweets, PM Modi said: “Shri Ram Nath Kovind, a farmer’s son, comes from a humble background. He devoted his life to public service & worked for poor & marginalised. With his illustrious background in the legal arena, Shri Kovind’s knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation”.
“I am sure Shri Ram Nath Kovind will make an exceptional President & continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden & marginalised,” Modi tweeted.
BJP president Amit Shah on Monday announced Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the Presidential candidate of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The choice of the 70-year old Dalit leader, who belongs to Kanpur, came as a surprise pick from the party.
The choice of Ram Nath Kovind as the Presidential candidate displays Modi and Shah’s penchant for pulling off “spectacular surprises” such as the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. If elected, which is highly likely, Kovind will also be a President who Modi will be supremely comfortable with.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has announced his party, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), support for him. Naveen Patnaik said ,”BJD has decided to support the candidature of Ram Nath Govind.” He asserted the fact that the decision of electing the President of the nation is above politics. He said, “Office of President of India is above political considerations and Biju Janata Dal wants to keep it above politics.” Elaborating the reasons behind BJD’s support to the NDA candidate, Patnaik said Ram Nath Kovind is an eminent lawyer belonging to the scheduled caste community.
He further added, “As you know, the last time when presidential elections were held, BJD had proposed the name of PA Sangma, an eminent leader from the tribal community. Based on the request of BJD, many parties including the BJP had supported his nomination.”
Expressing surprise at the NDA’s choice, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee joined the chorus saying there are “other big Dalit leaders” in the country. “I am not for a moment saying that the Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind is unfit to be the President. There are other big Dalit leaders in India. He was leader of Dalit Morcha of BJP, so they have made him candidate. I have spoken to two or three other Opposition leaders, they are also surprised,” she said.
In south, Telangana Chief Minister and TRS Chief K Chandrasekhar Rao extended his support to NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind after speaking to PM Modi.
The Telangana Rashtra Samiti, who is at loggerheads with the BJP in Telangana, declared that they would back the NDA candidate. YSR Congress chief Y S Jaganmohan Reddy had met PM Modi in May and extended his party’s support for the upcoming election.
The prime minister also reached out to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh to seek its support for Kovind. PM Modi also spoke to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu and Tamil Nadu CM E Palaniswamy over NDA’s presidential candidate pick, sources reported.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, however, praised Kovind’s “exemplary work” as Governor. “Matter of happiness for me personally. As far as support is concerned, can’t say anything right now. it is too early to say. He has done exemplary work as Governor of Bihar, worked with impartiality, maintained an ideal relationship with the state government,” he said.
JDU leader Sharad Yadav said the opposition will decide its candidate after the meeting. Speaking to sources, “The Opposition will hold a meeting. We will also think about discuss and think over the Presidential candidate announced by NDA,” he said. The opposition parties will hold a meeting on June 22.
Reacting to the nomination of Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA candidate for the Presidential elections, BSP chief Mayawati said that it would have been better if the NDA had nominated a “non-political” Dalit name. “As he is a Dalit we are positive on his nomination,” Mayawati was quoted as saying by sources. “We are also of the opinion that it would have been better if NDA had named a non-political Dalit person as President nominee,” she added.
Meanwhile, NDA partner Shiv Sena said Kovind’s name was not discussed with the allies.
“The name of Ram Nath Kovind was not suggested earlier. We found out the name when it was announced at the press conference,” according to Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut . He further questioned the need to hold meeting with allies if BJP did not wish to discuss the name with them. “Why was the name not discussed with the allies?” Raut was quoted by sources as saying. He further added that party president Uddhav Thackeray will hold a rally in the evening to announce the party’s decision.
“Opposition parties are meeting on July 22. Only once in history of independent India has the president of India been elected uncontested,” CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury leader added.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had also appealed to all political parties of the state to rise above politics and support the decision taken by NDA. CM Yogi Adityanath was quoted by sources as saying, “I appeal to all political parties of UP to support son of UP, Ram Nath Kovind for president, rising above politics.”
Meanwhile some BJP leaders said, Kovind’s selection is a “strong political” message for 2019. Lower castes had voted for BJP in large numbers in UP polls and in other elections, these leaders said, and Kovind as BJP’s pick for president will send across a message to these groups from the political heartland that BJP is “with them”.
Kovind will be the first UP Dalit who will be president,KR Narayanan, a Congress pick, was India’s first Dalit president,and with the PM, an other-backward-caste leader, being a member of parliament from UP, a ‘strong signal’ will be sent ‘across caste groups’ in India’s most politically crucial state, leaders quoted above said.
In Kovind, Modi and Shah have the choice of a Dalit leader making it difficult for the Opposition unless it also pits a Dalit against Kovind. Few parties would want to be seen opposing a Dalit candidate for the post of President of India. This will breach Opposition unity to a great extent though Congress, Left parties, TMC and RJD, among a few others, will not let him the unanimous choice.
Kovind, a low-profile BJP leader who’s worked closely with Shah in 2014 national polls, fits the party president’s requirements that the candidate be a dedicated party insider and someone RSS is comfortable with. But, importantly, he has the reputation of being a low-key, uncontroversial politician, with deep constitutional knowledge and legal as well as parliamentary experience.