The forthcoming presidential election has acquired a special significance largely because of the decision by the NDA to me a Dalit as its choice of President and a similar step taken by the Opposition in also picking a Dalit nominee for the post of President. One can understand the BJP’s compulsion to choose the not-so-well-known Ram th Kovind, Governor of Bihar, as the NDA’s nominee as President of India. It has realized, rather late in the day, that it had done very little for the Dalits. With the next Lok Sabha elections just two years away, the BJP and its allies could not afford to ignore the Dalits any longer. And so a Dalit had to be fielded as the NDA nominee for President. And once the NDA med Ram th Kovind as its nominee for President, there was no question of the Opposition not making a similar move. So, at the meeting of the Opposition parties held in Delhi on Thursday, Sonia Gandhi made the announcement that the “totally unimous decision” of the 17 Opposition parties was that their nominee for President was Meira Kumar, a former diplomat and a Lok Sabha MP five times apart from being a Union minister, the first woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha and a Congress general secretary. She is the daughter of the veteran Dalit leader, Babu Jagjivan Ram. tiolist Congress leader and former Union Minister Sharad Pawar had pushed for Sushil Kumar Shinde from Maharashtra, but yielded after all the other parties preferred Meira Kumar. The Congress that has always prided itself on not being commul, demonstrated how commul it can be under pressure. With just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, trying to be different just to maintain the image of not being commul, can be a risky undertaking.
In the context of the 21st century, the word dalit is no more than an indication of ancestry rather than present status of being oppressed or downtrodden in any way. After all, apart from Dalit indicating membership of the depressed community in the political sense, the word has several unsavoury connotations like oppressed, depressed, downtrodden, untouchable, trampled, ruined, broken and destroyed. Today, none of the leading Dalits can really claim to be oppressed, downtrodden or trampled upon in any manner. They are well educated, articulate, experienced and reasobly well to do. There is nothing either in Meira Kumar or Ram th Kovind to distinguish them from other educated, articulate, experienced and well-to-do citizens except their ancestry which comes in very handy for political parties to claim that they are on the side of the oppressed and the downtrodden. For instance, Babu Jagjiwan Ram is still regarded as one of the most capable defence ministers that India has had, and his political acumen used to be very highly rated during his long stint as a Union minister. As such, even when one is talking of ancestry rather than educatiol qualifications or experience, there is nothing of oppression or deprivation that the daughter such a leader (a very capable individual in her own right) can lay claim to. After all, ancestry is not everything in shaping one’s capability in public life. There is much more to be acquired from the environment than from one’s genes alone.