August 23, 2017   
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My Dalit Vs Your Dalit

CASTE PERVADES PRESIDEN’S POLL

By Poonam I Kaushish

The caste genie unleashed three decades ago has now devoured India’s presidency. Bringing things to such a pass that India’s next Presidential contest is not about whether the person is the right choice, has the requisite qualifications and is best suited but that he has the right caste credentials and is loyal. No matter it gives further impetus and widens the caste divide. Who cares?

With the BJP first off the ground by announcing ‘Mahadalit’ Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as its chosen one for Rashtrapati Bhavan the disparate Opposition led by the Congress unable or unwilling to break out of the paradigm of caste politics was left with no option but to belatedly copy-cat, chorus me-too and anoint Dalit ki beti ex-Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar as its Presidential candidate.

Clearly, in this ‘My Dalit vs Your Dalit’ fight none wants to jeopordise caste vote banks which has become the most luscious mistress to be measured through the prism of power glass politics. Wherein, the fight for the highest Constitutional office has been reduced to politics of optics and perception.

Undeniably, by anointing Kovind, the second Schedule Caste President after KR Narayanan the BJP has killed two birds with one stone. First, it has put the Opposition on the back-foot and emerged champion of the ‘Bahujan samaj’ with both Prime Minister Modi and now to-be President belonging to a backward caste and Dalit.

Perceived as a “political masterstroke” this outreach is not only to woo the community which constitutes 20% of the population and garner votes but a signal that the Saffron Parivar intends to expand its share on India’s political map. Specially, post internal feedback that the Dalits seem to be doing a rethink and drifting back to Mayawati’s BSP after the recent Saharanpur riots which have reopened the wounds of Mainpuri, Unnao and Sambhal.

Second, it has broken the Opposition’s fragile unity even before they could bandy together for this poll along-with puncturing their ambitious Mahagadhbandhan for general elections 2019. Succinctly underscored by RJD’s Laloo who dubbed Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s support for Kovind a “historic blunder”.

Alongside it has deflated the Congress and BSP’s hope of Dalit empowerment after the Saharanpur carnage. “By putting up Meira Kumar, who is from a different Dalit sub-caste, we have walked right into the BJP’s trap”, asserted a senior Congress leader. Adding, “The Presidential contest provided the Opposition the perfect platform to have its say if not its way. Yet, this chance too was squandered.”

Consequently, in this “battle of ideologies for a new India” secular vs communal, read RSS-mukt, the Opposition, has not only lost real time but also symbolically. Often the 17-odd Parties have been reactive exposing their dithering inertia only to be overtaken and out-smarted by a restless over-active Saffron Sangh.

Alas, with all merrily playing the caste zerosum game it is now difficult to recognize India as the same country which Emerson described as the “summit of human thought.”  Hence, in this 24X7 digital age, India needs a President who does not have  an ostrich approach but one who will engage with his Government on issues concerning citizens well being and fulfil his Constitutional obligations without fear or favour.

Kovind 71, a low-profile Dalit leader enjoying a clean reputation has steered clear of controversy in his over 26-year-old political career holding various organizational positions in the BJP was made Bihar Governor in 2015. Said he while filing his nomination papers last week, “The President is above Party politics. The country comes first, not politics”.

Brave words indeed. But actions speak louder than words. It remains to be seen if India’s 15th President will be the Government’s “rubber stamp” or give all it takes to balance the ever-growing inherent contradictions within our polity. Kovind would do well to take a leaf out of India’s first President Rajendra Prasad’s book.

Notably, he has “the right to be consulted, the right to warn and the right to encourage”. He can always exercise his judgment and ask for any decision to be reconsidered by the Government, Constitutionally, he could “send messages to either House of Parliament with respect to a Bill pending in Parliament or otherwise. Under Article 143 he can consult and seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on any issue of basic importance, law or fact that may have arisen or was likely to arise.

The President has one other power which, has seldom been exercised. This is the power to question and the right to information, which incidentally gives Parliament its unrivalled authority over the Executive and makes the daily question-hour sacrosanct. Nehru called on Rajen Babu once a week to keep him informed.

The President is thus empowered to uphold the Constitution and so also established conventions by asking questions—or by delaying the signing of any proclamation or other papers till the authorities satisfy him fully.  The President could put pertinent questions to the Centre before signing any document and demand full satisfaction. There is no time limit for him.

Thus, the President could be wholly Constitutional and yet act impartially, objectively and independently.  Among other things, he could always exercise his judgment and ask for any decision to be reconsidered by the Government.

This is what our Constitutional frames laid down. But the India of 2017 is not the India of 1947. Parliamentary democracy has degenerated into a feudal power brokers’ oligarchy. Communalism, casteism and corruption, together with the collapse of the system, herald the need for a new dawn. In this milieu the President’s role has become critical and urgent, if the nation is not to be hijacked from its democratic and Constitutional path.

He needs to spotlight the serious decline in public standards of morality, honesty and integrity and warn of the pitfalls ahead. Wherein, a feeling should not be encouraged that no change can be brought about, except by violent disorders. Thereby, we make the prospect of revolution inescapable by acquiescing in such conduct. As dishonesty creeps into every side of public life, we should beware and bring about suitable alternations in our life.

All in all, the new President will need to cement a cohesive society and address questions vital to the healthy growth of India’s democracy. It needs to be remembered that the President is “not a ceremonial head or one of the expensive futilities created by the Constitution”. Nor is he a glorified cipher as he is made out to be. Kovind needs to know that as an elected Head of State he has a bigger role to play than hereditary monarchs.

He has a moral duty to perform when decisions are not taken in the interest of the people. Recall Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: Public opinion is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who moulds public opinion goes deeper than he who enacts statues or pronounces decision”—-INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)