It may have the trappings of an ideological battle, but the 2017 presidential election has become a platform for political messaging. With the Bharatiya Janata Party fielding an old party hand from the Dalit community, the opposition parties led by the Congress felt constrained to follow suit. While the candidature of Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind on behalf of the ruling party was a surprise, the response from the opposition in naming former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar was anything but that. This lent the unfortunate impression that the Congress and other parties had no clear choice of their own, and were only waiting to react. They may have hoped that the BJP would field someone from its old guard, in order to set the stage for a contest between a candidate ‘swathed in saffron’ and one with a secular report card. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah chose someone less known but from a disadvantaged community, with the clear intent of garnering the support of those outside the fold of the National Democratic Alliance, who cannot afford to be seen to be opposing a Dalit. As it happened, the Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Mayawati, felt obliged to extend her support to Mr. Kovind, until the Congress and its allies came up with the name of Ms. Kumar, daughter of the late leader of the depressed classes, Babu Jagjivan Ram. It is clear that the opposition’s tactic of waiting for the ruling party to name its candidate did not exactly help its cause. It only gave an opportunity to the BJP leadership to set the tone and agenda for the contest.
The election result is a foregone conclusion. On the strength of its majority in the Lok Sabha and several legislatures, especially its huge presence in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, the BJP’s nominee is well ahead. His position is bolstered by the support of a clutch of regional parties in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Tamil Nadu, but the most important coup that the BJP has pulled off by fielding the Bihar Governor is the backing of Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The only political point of interest in the current election lies in the possibility that it may result in a realignment in Bihar. Mr. Kumar may be weighing the fallout of being seen in the company of the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader, Lalu Prasad, whose family is now embroiled in allegations of benami property transactions. There also appears to be a competition among regional parties such as the Telugu Desam Party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the YSR Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam factions to support the Narendra Modi regime. The normally restive Shiv Sena too has chosen to back Mr. Kovind. Even with 17 parties in the opposition ranks, there may be only a symbolic contest.
Source: The Hindu – Editorials