06/23/2017, 18.50
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Although government and opposition pick Dalit candidate for the presidency, castes remain

Ram Nath Kovind is backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Meira Kumar has the support of 16 opposition parties led by Congress. The two veteran politicians are in their seventies. For Lenin Raghuvanshi, the choice of Dalit candidates “does not change the evils of the caste system”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has divided the opposition.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – A Dalit will be the next president of India. This is a certainty after Meira Kumar, former speaker of the Lok Sabha (Lower House) and a veteran member of Sonia Gandhi’s Congress Party, agreed to run against Ram Nath Kovind, former governor of Bihar and a three-time member of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) for Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The election is set for 17 July and the result will be announced on the 20th.

The pictures of the two Dalit politicians have filled TV screens for days now. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement caught the opposition by surprise and divided. The 71-year-old Kovind is well respected for his integrity and impartiality. And many analysts agree that Modi’s pick is meant to gain support among the most disadvantaged classes.

“It was a move of Dalit-Brahamanism social engineering that does not change the evils of the caste system," said Lenin Raghuvanshi, a Dalit activist and executive director of the Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) who spoke to AsiaNews.

This week comes in the wake Modi's recent electoral victories in five state elections. On Tuesday, he announced Kovind’s candidacy and accompanied him this morning to fill out his official papers.

His decision to pick the son of a poor Dalit farmer in Uttar Pradesh has had an immediate impact. The 16 opposition parties led by Congress met yesterday and picked Meira Kumar, 72, the daughter of a former Deputy Prime Minister, Jagjivan Ram. All experts agree that the opposition was caught off guard and unprepared, and will likely pay a political price.

First of all, Modi’s ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) found a candidate like Kovind, a politician well respected and of high moral standing. Secondly, the prime minister’s pick brought him the support of some of his rivals, including Bihar’s current Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a fierce opponent of BJP Hindu nationalists.

Some members of the opposition have admitted that they were caught unawares, and had to scramble to find someone who could stand against such a credible opponent. Surveys already suggest that Kovind has a 62 per cent lead in the electoral college.

According to Raghuvanshi, the reason for nationalists backing Kovind "stems from the desire to buttress their power based on male chauvinism." This explains why "many Dalit have joined the BJP in recent years", a counterintuitive behaviour since the BJP accepts the caste system (chapter three on integral humanism) as something that “exists in society”.

Although Kovind said today that if he is elected, he "would be above partisanship", many doubts it will be possible.

For Raghuvanshi, to improve the conditions of discriminated Dalit, it would be better to "promote a movement of reconciliation between different castes and religious communities starting in civil society, and create bonds between those who have suffered from communal marginalisation and Brahamanism. Outreach and meetings are the best way to fight dangerous prejudices that lead to hatred among communities." For this reason, the activist proposes the creation of a "new Dalit social movement to coordinate protest over common problems.”

"All those struggling for human rights will be welcome, including those who want to reverse state privatisation, natural resource abuse, societal cleavages and hatreds fuelled by sectarianism, feudalism and the patriarchal system, encouraged by the caste system of Brahmanism and the ideology of Hindutva."

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