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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Kovind set to become next President

  Kovind set to become next President

Kovind all set to become next President

Saturday, June 24, 2017
By Prakash Bal Joshi
Low profile Ram Nath Kovind, fielded by the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for the Presidential poll is all set to become next President of India unless something goes terribly wrong with the NDA’s calculations.

An astute Ambedkarite, Kovind will have to protect the Constitution of India written by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar at crucial junctures. Though the post as such is a titular head of the Republic but presidential elections always create interests among political parties as well as common people who want to know who is going to be their next President. The makers of the Constitution have taken care to ensure that there is no direct clash of interests between the President and the Prime Minister since PM is the executive head. Since the President is elected indirectly by the elected representatives of the Parliament as well as the state legislative assemblies his duties are predetermined and remains within confines of demarcation made by the provisions of the Constitution.  and all decisions taken by the cabinet are binding on the President to approve.

The fact is that the president has independent powers to act when inviting a party to form a new government immediately after the general elections. The task becomes difficult and complicated when there is fractured mandate and no single party or pre-election alliance secures clear cut majority. Though this discussion might sound little bit pre-mature since the general elections are scheduled in 2019 when the new president will have to use his or her discretion if voters give fractured mandate. This aspect though not discussed in public domain was uppermost in the minds of the BJP as well as the Congress led opposition.

Apart from other aspects and merits while selecting the candidate for the presidential poll, this aspect was dominant while making a final choice of the candidate. The opposition led by the Congress was keen on using this opportunity to forge anti-BJP front and start a political process of consolidation of opposition votes for the 2019 general elections. The ruling BJP was aware of the danger of such a vertical split and used the process of selection of candidate to divide opposition and thwart the emergence of larger alliance against the NDA.

While going through the motions for arriving at a consensus on the candidate avoiding presidential poll, the BJP floor managers were busy finalising its candidate and strategy. The left parties had warned in the beginning itself that they would not entertain any Hindutva hardliner as a presidential candidate.

The BJP surprised everybody by nominating Kovind for the presidential poll especially those who were expecting some senior BJP leader perhaps a minister with RSS background. Kovind though two-time MP and governor of Bihar has been connected with the BJP is a sober person not known to make any controversial statements or hold some extremist views.

Though it is unfortunate that Kovind’s caste came to fore in the following discussion as all sorts of observations were made by players in the field. Apart from candidate’s merits and abilities to handle crucial situations, caste became the main issue for discussions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi killed two birds with one stone – the decision was aimed at subsiding the BJP’s image as a party of upper caste and by nominating a Dalit leader – he created confusion and a rift among opposition parties to foil efforts to forge a grand alliance against the BJP. The discussion once again made it clear that all vote calculations for elections move around caste combinations. It is unfortunate but caste bias become dominant whenever there is any discussion about any sort of election.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was the first to visit Kovind in Rajbhavan in Patna and offered personal congratulations to Kovind and expressed satisfaction over his conduct as a constitutional head in the state. The way he expressed his views made it clear that for presidential poll he may have different perspective and support Kovind without waiting for the Congress led opposition choice of a candidate. Mayawati also made it clear that she would support Kovind, if the opposition has candidate from some other caste or religion. So, it became obvious for the opposition to select a Dalit candidate to fight BJP’s Dalit candidate. The Congress considered several names including Sushil Kumar Shinde from Maharashtra and finally settled on former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, daughter of late Babu Jagjivan Ram. While she has political legacy of her father, Kovind is a first-generation politician working for rights of supressed and believes in BJP’s saffron ideology.

By fielding Meira Kumar, the Congress has tried to have its hold on other camp supporters. Lalu Prasad Yadav has made a public appeal to Nitish Kumar to reconsider his decision to support Kovind in view of opposition candidate Meira Kumar who is more experienced with a distinguished career. What is becoming obvious is the fact that those regional groups which are enjoying power in their respective states are siding with the BJP choice of candidates while those without power are with the Congress and the left parties.

The BJP has also taken a very shrewd step in selecting Kovind as presidential candidate to correct its social engineering. Despite several steps taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to win over Dalits across the country, the relationship with Dalits have been deteriorating during last couple of years.
Several issues including suicide by University of Hyderabad scholar Rohit Vemula, created a pan Indian reaction. Attacks on Dalits by cow vigilantes in Gujarat and elsewhere have also affected the BJP image. Taking all these developments into consideration, the BJP decided to filed Kovind as presidential candidate.
The party hopes that the selection of Kovind will help it to further spread its slogan “sabka sath sabka vikas”. Dalit rights activist Kancha Ilaiah feels that it may be a token gesture by the BJP to nominate Kovind, but it is welcome at a time when Dalits are facing attacks and harassments.  One hopes that Kovind entering Rashtrapati Bhavan will create more tolerating attitude in  society towards oppressed classes in society. If it happens then it will be a most welcome development and choice of Kovind will not remain mere tokenism. The BJP was always criticised for being a party of upper caste where oppressed classes and castes were only symbolic unlike the Congress which gave president and speaker from Dalit community. The support of Dalits being crucial for any elections, the party has finally accorded recognition by nominating Kovind for the top Constitutional post in the country.

The BJP led NDA will get an opportunity to use the election to harp on its social engineering experiment in giving candidature of Kovind ignoring so many aspirants from the BJP camp. The Congress as well as communist parties and other non-BJP parties will also organise whirlwind tour of the country for Meira Kumar to not only showcase her accomplishments and legal acumen but also make a political statement attacking the BJP and its policies.

The regional political parties which does not have much say in the process of electing a president will also join the bandwagon. The Shiv Sena which was reluctant to support the BJP candidate initially has finally decided to vote for Kovind saying that like most of the Shiv Sena leaders he is also a first-generation politician who does not depend on political legacy. The outcome of the fight is almost a foregone conclusion.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Beyond the lull
The Maratha community’s discontent is fuelled by socio-economic and political factors
Prakash Bal Joshi
Maharashtra is witnessing huge silent processions by the dominant Maratha community in major cities, which have created ripples in political circles. What has surprised many is the fact that no known political leader or organisation is leading these marches in which women and girls are participating in large numbers.
The immediate provocation for these silent morchas is a brutal rape in Kopardi in western Maharashtra. That the victim belongs to the Maratha community while the alleged rapists are from the lower caste has provoked such shows of strength. These processions demand stern action against the aggressors who belong to the Dalit community. There are two other major demands by those who have taken to the streets — reservations for the Maratha community in jobs and education and scrapping of the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes (prevention of atrocities) Act 1989, which they feel is being misused.
As a result of 200-year-old social reforms in Maharashtra, caste is not such a dominant factor in power politics in the state as is evident in Northern states of UP and Bihar. However, it remained as a strong undercurrent since the state was carved out in the early 1960s. The Marathas, a warrior-agricultural caste, have been ruling the state for four decades ever since the modern state of Maharashtra came into being. The community with the help of a huge network of cooperatives managed to dominate the rural economy as well as maintain control of political power by aligning with the Congress Party which was at the helm of affairs in Delhi as well as in the state. It was possible for the community to maintain its grip over the levers of power in the state by aligning with other castes through an all-inclusive policy, popularly known as “berjeche rajkaran” adopted by the first Chief Minister YB Chavan.
Over the years, the gap between the few politically connected families and others in the agrarian community has been widening, thus creating an imbalance. Declining returns from farm produce, threat to the cooperative sector due to changed economic policies in the post-globalisation era and a lucrative service sector from which they haven’t benefitted in the least, have led to frustrations within the community. Majority of the Maratha community are marginal farmers, forced to penury and suicides due to the changed economic situation in rural Maharashtra. The demand for reservation had been pushed in the last decade during the Congress-led Progressive Democratic Front government despite many legal and constitutional hurdles.
Mere demands for reservations for Marathas may not have evoked such a massive response. The demand for stern action against the alleged Kopardi rapists added emotional fervour to the call given for silent processions by the Maratha community.
Apart from the immediate triggers for such silent processions, there are other socio-political factors, which have contributed to the community’s woes. What has perturbed the elite is the fact that Maratha domination in power politics has been weakening since 1995. It coincides with the fall of the Congress Party which began after communal riots in post-Babri Masjid demotion period. The process is virtually complete with the decimation of the Congress as well as the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in 2014 state assembly elections.
Barring the beneficiaries of political power in the Maratha community, a huge number of Marathas who remained marginalised economically, if not socially, shifted their loyalties from the Congress and voted for the BJP and the Shiv Sena in a big way. The defeat of the Congress and the NCP was more hurting for the community as the BJP emerged as the single largest party and appointed Devendra Fadnavis the chief minister. For the Maratha community, which kept its dominant role intact for four decades through the Congress, this development was quite unexpected. The community had always used anti-Brahmanism as a subtext to securing power since the stance helped them garner support from Other Backward Castes in the state.
The way Fadnavis government is cracking down on corruption in the cooperative banks, sugar factories and marketing committees to lessen the Congress stranglehold over these institutions, has hurt the interests of Maratha leaders leading these cooperatives. The actions against these institutions coupled with investigations into alleged corruption charges levelled against corrupt leaders have created simmering discontent. All these leaders who lost power in 2014 elections are silently supporting the movement.
For the Congress, the loss of power in Maharashtra is all the more hurting since the state had always stood behind it despite the anti-Congress waves in the North witnessed in 1967 and later in 1989. The political fragmentation due to splits in the Congress Party did not affect Maratha dominance much as they deftly manoeuvred their way forward. The vote share of the Congress has steadily declined from 31 per cent in 19195 to 18 per cent in 2014 and the NCP, which came into existence in 1999, also followed the same downward trend. The Congress Party now sees a window of opportunity to win back the support of the Maratha community by using these silent uprisings. But it is not an easy proposition, as Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar is also waiting in the wings.
These massive shows of strength by the dominant community in Maharashtra is also being closely monitored by the BJP headquarters in Delhi as they have already burnt their fingers in the Jat and Patidar agitations, both politically dominant communities. Though Brahmins in the state have been totally marginalised over the years in power politics, anti-Brahmanism has always been instrumental in getting OBC support for the Maratha leadership.
The marginal farmers in the community have suffered because the established Maratha leaders have shifted base from rural to urban centres to enter the lucrative real-estate sector in a big way. The leadership is no more effective in protecting the community’s agrarian interests. These massive morchas are seen as efforts by established leaders to use emotive issues like reservations and the atrocities act to keep the community united. The anger in the Maratha community against a popular Marathi film Sairat, which shows a love affair between a Maratha girl and a non-Maratha youth leading to honour killing, is also being subtly used to arouse Maratha pride.
It is neither easy to predict what turns and twists Maratha politics will take in the near future nor easy to foresee who will benefit from this peaceful movement.
The writer is columnist, author and artist

Published Date:  Sep 27, 2016  DNA