India's Ruling Party Announces its Presidential Candidate

  • BJP candidate is Ram Nath Kovind, current governor of Bihar
  • Name announced amid protests by the lowest in caste hierarchy

India’s ruling coalition has announced its candidate for a presidential election, choosing a man who has championed the rights of India’s Dalits amid protests by so-called "lower castes."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has chosen Ram Nath Kovind, the current governor of Bihar after consulting its allies, its president Amit Shah said at a news conference on June 19. The ruling party’s nominee for country’s next president has also served as a member of the upper house for two consecutive terms.

The nomination comes amid violent protests by Dalits, the lowest in India’s caste hierarchy, and other groups that have historically been discriminated against. Modi’s BJP has traditionally been viewed as a party of so-called upper caste Hindus.

The BJP wants a party loyalist who will "toe the party line" and at the same time "won’t overshadow the persona of the prime minister," said political scientist and pro-vice chancellor at Jain University in Bangalore, Sandeep Shastri. By selecting a Dalit, the party is also seeking to expand its traditional support base ahead of the next general election in 2019, he said.

In the midst of an upsurge in caste-related unrest, the BJP was only paying "lip service" to underprivileged groups by appointing a Dalit as its presidential candidate, according to Paul Divakar, the general secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. "Access to justice, implementation, those are the things that are needed," Divakar said.

On his official website, Kovind, a lawyer and parliamentarian, describes himself as a "crusader" for the rights and causes of "weaker sections of society," including India’s scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other so-called backward classes. These groups have been traditionally discriminated against in the Hindu caste system, and receive government reservations for jobs and education.

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