Ram Nath Kovind, former governor of the northern Indian state state of Bihar, has been elected as the country’s fresh president. BBC Hindi’s Vineet Khare profiles a man many Indians have never heard of.
“I have been writing about the Dalits [formerly untouchables] for 27 years. nevertheless I first heard of Ram Nath Kovind the day he was nominated for India’s next president.”
Dalit writer-activist Chandrabhan Prasad is actually not alone in claiming that will he does not know about the man who has just been elected to the top constitutional post.
His nomination by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) caused so much surprise that will a local media report quipped that will the item “seems only two people knew about his candidature. PM Narendra Modi as well as God”.
the item added that will his name had been entered more than 500,000 times on Google within 24 hours of the announcement of his candidacy.
When BJP president Amit Shah declared that will Mr Kovind might be the party’s nominee, he described him as a Dalit who had “struggled his way up to such a high position in his political career”.
The Dalits sit at the bottom of the Hindu caste system in India as well as complaints of discrimination are still widespread. Many in fact, accuse the BJP of perpetuating the Brahmin-led caste order where Dalits figure at the bottom, as well as say Mr Kovind’s nomination comes at a time when the party is actually being accused of being insensitive towards the community.
The all 5-year job is actually largely ceremonial nevertheless could be crucial when elections throw up fragmented mandates.
However, many prominent Dalits say they are unaware what contributions, if any, the fresh first citizen has made on behalf of the community.
“I go to seminars on Dalits. I write opinion pieces. I appear on TV debates. My job is actually to work around the subject. nevertheless I don’t know anything about him,” said Mr Prasad.
“I have never heard him take a stand on Dalit issues. the item could be my ignorance.
“He seems to be an educated, conscientious person nevertheless I have never heard him comment on the atrocities against the Dalits,” complained another Dalit writer, who preferred anonymity.
“The move to install a Dalit to the ornamental post is actually symbolic. Did the appointment of [India’s first Dalit president] KR Narayanan help the community in any way? If the ideology of the party is actually not supportive of the Dalit cause, the item doesn’t make much difference,” he said.
“The party has gone for a man who is actually not towering, is actually media shy as well as whose political as well as ideological orientation is actually in sync with Mr Modi,” senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan told the BBC.
Mr Kovind’s long-time neighbour Jageshwar, a Dalit inside the northern city of Kanpur, claims he cannot recall if Mr Kovind, “son of a cloth-seller, ever campaigned for a Dalit cause”.
Kanpur journalist Ramesh Verma agrees the fresh president has kept a low profile.
“He stayed away coming from the media as he didn’t want to be controversial,” Mr Verma told the BBC.
“I never saw him attend Dalit programmes. In fact, he never projected himself as a Dalit leader.”
So what is actually known about Mr Kovind?
A handful of YouTube videos of his speeches show that will he is actually fluent in both Hindi as well as English.
The activists who spoke to the BBC agree that will he is actually a soft-spoken man who “prefers to stay away coming from controversies”.
What is actually India’s caste system?
The system which divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) as well as dharma (the Hindi word for religion, nevertheless here the item means duty) is actually generally accepted to be more than 3,000 years old.
The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas as well as the Shudras. Many believe that will the groups originated coming from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation.
A “committed member” of the right-wing RSS, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, Mr Kovind rose to become a lawyer as well as served two terms inside the upper house of parliament.
He has also been the party’s spokesperson, led a BJP Dalit organisation as well as has held several important party posts.
“His closeness to the RSS helped him go places,” senior Dalit leader inside the BJP Sanjay Paswan told the BBC.
“Mr Modi as well as Mr Kovind have known each various other for a long time. There is actually nothing wrong if the PM goes for a man with whom he shares chemistry,” he said.
Mr Paswan also blamed the “caste bias” of the media for Mr Kovind’s “anonymity”.
“Dalit spokespersons are the last choice for India media,” he claimed.
Mr Paswan also said Mr Kovind had many “achievements” that will the “media refuse to talk about”.
“He has been instrumental in installing memorials of Dalit leader BR Ambedkar. He got the name of the welfare ministry changed to the social justice empowerment ministry – a phrase that will conveys the true work of the ministry. He did a lot of work for the Dalit cause.”
Another BJP spokesperson, Dr Bizay Sonkar Shastri, a Dalit who has known Mr Kovind for a long time, says his “presidential term might help bring forth the real problems of the Dalits”.
“The question ‘Kovind who?’ is actually a commentary on the state of political journalism in India – an ecosystem based on babalog [childlike] as well as inheritor ‘sources’,” tweeted journalist Swapan Dasgupta, who is actually considered close to the BJP.
nevertheless Mr Kovind is actually not entirely without controversy.
A 2010 Hindustan Times report quoted him as saying that will “Islam as well as Christianity are alien to the nation” at a press conference calling for the scrapping of a report that will recommended government job reservations for socially as well as economically disadvantaged sections among religious as well as linguistic minorities.
“This particular was a political statement as well as is actually still the stand of the BJP. Mr Kovind’s statement was a political one as well as the item should be seen in that will context,” Mr Paswan said.