POLITICS

Why Meira Kumar Is A Terrible Choice As Opposition’s Presidential Candidate

Modi sets the agenda, Congress follows.

22/06/2017 8:58 PM IST | Updated 23/06/2017 2:39 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Back in 2007 when the Congress party made an undeserving Pratibha Patil the President of India, Meira Kumar would have been a better idea.

As the BJP seeks to make a Patil-like Ram Nath Kovind the Rashtrapati, Meira Kumar is again a more worthy candidate. A former diplomat, a former Lok Sabha speaker, a Dalit and a woman – she is ably qualified with both her achievements and identity to be President of India.

But this is not about her. This is about whether the opposition's candidate send the right political signals. Messaging is all it is about, given their candidate is bound to lose since the NDA has gathered the numbers it needs in the electoral college.

But this is not about her. This is about whether the opposition's candidate send the right political signals. Messaging is all it is about, given their candidate is bound to lose since the NDA has gathered the numbers it needs in the electoral college.

The problem with Meira Kumar's candidature is that the opposition is saying, 'We also have a Dalit,' sounding apologetic about the BJP having stumped it by naming a Dalit. By bringing forth a Dalit name against a Dalit name, the opposition is admitting it has been stumped by the BJP in the Presidential polls too. The 'me too' approach shows how the opposition is bereft of political imagination.

It would have been smarter, for instance, for the opposition to name an upper caste candidate – an upper caste perhaps, preferably a Bania. Nobody from the Bania community has been president. Or someone from Kashmir or the northeast, a tribal or a Muslim woman. Any of these would have offered a contrast to the BJP's choice.

B Mathur / Reuters
India's newly elected parliament speaker Meira Kumar adjusts her headphone during a news conference in New Delhi June 3, 2009.

As the BJP tries to change its image from a Brahmin-Bania party to a party of the poor and the lower castes, opposition parties have an opportunity to target upper castes. Affected by demonetisation, tax raids, economic slowdown and anxious over GST, the community is ripe for political targeting by a party other than the ruling one. If only the opposition had some imagination.

Instead of 'me too', the opposition's choice for the Raisina Hill top job should have offered a contrast. Before voters, the opposition needs to look like it has something different to offer, if not something new. By simply copying the BJP's choice of a Dalit candidate, the opposition shows it doesn't have the ability to offer voters anything Modi can't do before them.

Even a deserving Brahmin candidate widely acceptable in society – someone like APJ Abdul Kalam who bridged divides – would have been a politically smart idea.

The Congress has already given India its first Dalit president, denying the Narendra Modi the opportunity to say he did it first. Naming an upper caste against Ram Nath Kovind would therefore not have looked politically incorrect.

By naming someone like, say, Farooq Abdullah for the Presidential election, the opposition could have embarrassed the BJP government over its mishandling of the situation in Kashmir, where it is in alliance in the government.

India has also never had a President from the north-east, with the exception of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed of Assam. But the rest of the north-east has never been represented, and the BJP is making inroads there at a very fast speed.

In Kashmir, the Modi-led BJP government has increased people's alienation with India to a level never seen in the 2000's. By naming someone like, say, Farooq Abdullah for the Presidential election, the opposition could have embarrassed the BJP government over its mishandling of the situation in Kashmir, where it is in alliance in the government.

It is being speculated the BJP might name a tribal for the vice president's job. The opposition could have had a first mover advantage on that by naming an Adivasi for the presidential elections.

Alas, our moribund opposition is destined to look like a has-been.

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