As the Naga People’s Front (NPF) battles its latest internal nemesis, in the national arena, the stage is set for showdown between various political parties on July 17 – the race to Raisina Hills to elect the 14th President of Indian Republic.
In a first ever Dalit-vs-Dalit contest, the battle line is drawn between Opposition nominee and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominee and former Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind.
The odds are heavily stacked in favor of the latter, with the NDA nominee expected to garner two-third of the total 10,98,903 votes of the Electoral College which elects the President. It consists of the elected members of both Houses of Parliament and the elected Members of the Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) of the States including NCT of Delhi and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
Through a complex formula, MLAs in different States and UTs carry different values based on the 1971 census. For instance, the value of each vote for an MLA in Uttar Pradesh is 208, while it is 9 for Nagaland. Thus, with 403 seats with 208 values, UP has 83824 votes while Nagaland has 540 votes (9×60). Each Member of Parliament carries 708 points.
In the run-up to the election, the credentials for Kovind had been carefully crafted by the BJP spin doctors – a farmer’s son, a humble origin and many years of close association with Dalits’ causes. A trained lawyer, he was also member of the Rajya Sabha twice and was chosen as the Governor of Bihar in 2015.
However, what causes disquiet among many observers is his alternative credential. Closely associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) over the years, he is described as “Hindutva ideologue by thinking and a dedicated Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker by political affiliation.”
His possible elevation to the top post of the country is also seen as the strengthening of right-wing grip in Indian politics. “Kovind’s election will cap a series of top appointments Modi has made, strengthening the grip of the Hindu right on public offices, such as state chief ministers and governors, but also academic institutions and thinktanks,” goes an analytical report by Reuters News Agency. In March, another hardliner Yogi Adityanath was picked as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. The choice was a “clever manoeuvring of crucial political identities or a cunning application of social engineering for electoral benefits,” Harish S. Wankhede argued in The Wire.
As an “RSS loyalist,” other reports highlighted his objection to “proposed inclusion of Dalit Christians and Muslims in the Scheduled Caste category” and “his reservation against the quota for religious minorities.” The objection refers to Ranganath Misra Commission report, which according to an IANS report recommended “15% quota in government jobs for socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities in India.”
Another controversy doing the rounds after his nomination was whether as a BJP spokesperson in 2010, he said that “Christianity and Islam” were ‘alien’ to the nation” or “the notion of caste is alien to Christianity and Islam.” His statement in a press conference reported by IANS, was affirmed by the reporter in an article by AltNews, which concluded that, “Looking at his detailed views on the matter and the context of the statement, it is likely that by the word ‘alien’ he meant that these religions have origins outside India.” It is concurrent with the RSS notion of both religions.
India follows a system of Parliamentary democracy where the role of the President is considered titular or nominal as the real executive power is wielded by the prime minister and the council of ministers. However, during any political crisis or emergencies, the President plays a key role. The President also acts as the conscience keepers and the custodian of democratic values enshrined in the Constitution of India.
In such a context, Nagaland with a value of 1956 votes in real sense cannot decide the outcome, but it is rather symbolic. Thus, it is pertinent that the legislators make ethical choice between various ideological alternatives. When the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) gave “unanimous” endorsement to NDA nominee, did they consider such alternatives? One never knows.
However, in the Presidential Election, the Members can vote according to their conscience and are not bound by any party whips and the voting is also by secret ballot. Will Members of Nagaland Legislative Assembly vote conscientiously? We will know on July 20.
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