Opposition parties can still make a real contest out of the presidential elections if they put forward a candidate who can get widespread support, and Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar has a suggestion – don’t name another Dalit, but an adivasi to take on the NDA candidate.
“The BJP has put forward the name of Ram Nath Kovind – countering it with Meira Kumar will be ineffective. And Gopalkrishna Gandhi could have been a strong candidate had his name been announced earlier, not now as a rival to Kovind. But an adivasi would change the game completely,” Ambedkar, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s grandson, told The Wire.
He says he is already talking to opposition leaders and urging them to find a suitable adivasi who has experience in a constitutional post. “There are former judges and civil servants. The opposition must select one of them and put him up.” The adivasis are a strong political block and are present in all parties – a candidate from among them will make a difference, he says. “Even the Shiv Sena has a large number of Adivasi MLAs–he will get those votes. Even if he loses, it will send out a strong message.”
He points out that in Maharashtra the adivasis are agitated over the government’s plan to provide reservations for the Dhangar (shepherd) community in the scheduled tribes category. “Can you imagine the impact of an adivasi presidential candidate in such circumstances?”
“In fact, the first choice of the BJP was Draupudi Murmu, a tribal who is the governor of Jharkhand. But her name was rejected by the RSS,” Ambedkar claims. “The RSS calls them vanavasi, people of the forest, not adivasis, who are the original tribes, because it goes against their favourite Aryan theories,” he says.
Ambedkar claims Kovind’s nomination is part of an RSS plan to make major changes to the Indian political system and the constitution. “They want to win in 2019, by which time they will also have a majority in the Rajya Sabha. Then they want to bring in constitutional amendments, which includes putting curbs on rights, reducing or doing away with reservations and even getting rid of the word secular. They think it will look acceptable if a Dalit president signs these changes. He is an RSS man. It’s the first step in a long game.”
Ambedkar has been saying that the RSS wants to impose Brahminism and ‘Manuvad’ on India. “But they know that the country will not tolerate it being done by Brahmins, so they have been projecting OBCs and Thakurs as their public faces. Now they have used a Dalit.” Kovind, says Ambedkar, is not like President K.L. Narayanan, who stood up for the constitution and refused to kowtow to Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the NDA’s rule. This time “there is no such danger”, Ambedkar says.
“The opposition parties have to be quick – the BJP is managing to get many regional parties on its side, including possibly Mayawati, who is worried about her corruption cases. It is time that the Congress shows some imagination, and along with the others comes up with a suitable opponent to Kovind.”