The largest democracy on this globe is going to witness the election of a robust custodian of the republic. While the President of India is widely considered to be a figurehead, he or she is nevertheless the constitutional head of the government. To fill this formal executive post, two Indian political coalitions, the NDA and UPA, have nominated Ram Nath Kovind and Meira Kumar respectively. They both, of course, happen to be Dalits, which is something that has caused much debate.
The matter of caste has quickly become the focus of discussions on the apex constitutional post, with political leaders making their stances clear. For example, Ram Vilas Paswan has stated that opposing Kovind means taking an anti-Dalit stance. While the BSP's Mayawati earlier supported Kovind's candidature on the grounds of caste, she shifted positions when the UPA declared the name of Meira Kumar. Nitish Kumar's JD(U), meanwhile is backing Kovind, despite Lalu Prasad urging support for "Bihar's Daughter". In addition, Dalit writers such as Chandra Bhan Prasad have noted that the UPA by fielding Kumar has walked into the BJP's trap "of splitting Dalits between Chamars and non-Chamars in the Hindi heartland."
When it comes to the post of our own President we meekly accept whoever we get, even if the choice is entirely driven by political machinations.
Interestingly, a recent Indiatoday.in survey found that most Indians prefer a non-political person for the post of President. While how much this survey is representative of what the wider public wants, history supports that non-political Presidents such as APJ Abdul Kalam left a far greater legacy among the populace than political appointees like Pratibha Patil and KR Narayanan.
In the present scenario, it is clear that both Kovind and Kumar have been nominated for political reasons. Other than their caste, both have links with Bihar (Kovind was a former governor and Kumar's roots are in the state). Now Bihar is an important political battleground in India and one where the BJP recently suffered a loss against a Dalit coalition. The party thus is likely trying to course correct, especially in the wake of recent caste-based controversies such as the suicide of Rohith Vemula and the Dalit unrest in Una, Gujarat.
While having a woman and/or Dalit as President is something to celebrate, given that marginalised sections of society deserve the right to representation, the political expediency behind both these nominations should give us pause for thought. It's been mere months since many Indians were shouting themselves hoarse over the US presidential elections, but when it comes to the post of our own President we meekly accept whoever we get, even if the choice is entirely driven by political machinations. How democratic is this? To what extent will our divisive political tradition affect the presidential post too?