In­dian law­mak­ers vote for next pres­i­dent from low­est Dalit caste

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

NEW DELHI — In­dian law­mak­ers voted on Mon­day to pick the coun­try’s pres­i­dent, who is cer­tain to come from the low­est Dalit caste, in an elec­tion seen as strength­en­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s grip on power.

About 4,900 leg­is­la­tors na­tion­wide voted in what Modi termed a “his­toric” elec­tion to choose the tit­u­lar head of state.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has nom­i­nated Ram Nath Kovind, a 71-year-old for­mer lawyer from the Dalit com­mu­nity.

His main ri­val is Meira Ku­mar, the nom­i­nee of the Congress-led op­po­si­tion and also a Dalit.

The re­sult will be an­nounced on Thurs­day but Kovind’s vic­tory is al­most cer­tain since the BJP said it has the elec­toral col­lege num­bers needed to push its can­di­date through.

The win­ner of the elec­tion will be sworn into of­fice for a five-year term on July 27 and will re­place in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee, a po­lit­i­cal vet­eran who has held the post since 2012.

Mem­bers of both houses of the fed­eral par­lia­ment and state as­sem­blies across the coun­try can take part in the vote.

“The pres­i­den­tial poll this time is his­toric. Prob­a­bly for the first time no party has made any undig­ni­fied or un­war­ranted com­ment on the ri­val can­di­date,” Modi said on the eve of the poll.

“Ev­ery po­lit­i­cal party has kept in mind the dig­nity of this elec­tion.”

It is also his­toric as it will be the first time the BJP has or­ga­nized the nu­mer­i­cal strength to push through its can­di­date.

In­dia’s prime min­is­ter wields ex­ec­u­tive power, but the pres­i­dent can send back some par­lia­men­tary bills for re­con­sid­er­a­tion and also plays a guid­ing role in the process of form­ing gov­ern­ments.

Modi ally

An­a­lysts said Kovind’s elec­tion will help Modi tighten his grip on power and ac­crue po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal by send­ing an im­por­tant mes­sage to the Dal­its, a long-dis­dained elec­toral group once known as “un­touch­ables”.

It will be only the sec­ond time that In­dia has had a Dalit head of state.

Dal­its, who num­ber around 200 mil­lion in the na­tion of 1.3 bil­lion, are among In­dia’s poor­est com- mu­ni­ties and rel­e­gated to the mar­gins of so­ci­ety.

De­spite le­gal pro­tec­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion is rife and Dal­its are rou­tinely de­nied ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and other ad­vance­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

On the day of the vote, me­dia re­ported the case of a Dalit la­borer al­legedly beaten to death by up­per-caste at­tack­ers, high­light­ing the plight of the “un­touch­able” caste.

Modi’s ri­vals have protested at Kovind’s nom­i­na­tion, cit­ing his as­so­ci­a­tion with the rad­i­cal right-wing Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh, the ide­o­log­i­cal power be­hind the BJP.

The op­po­si­tion nom­i­nee Ku­mar, the daugh­ter of free­dom fighter Babu Jag ji­van Ram, was a diplo­mat be­fore en­ter­ing pol­i­tics in 1985 and be­came In­dia’s first woman speaker in 2009.

Her nom­i­na­tion, which fol­lowed Kovind’s, was seen by many as an op­po­si­tion at­tempt to counter Modi’s move to woo Dal­its.

Dalit sup­port will be key for the BJP be­fore the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion as the party has been largely shunned by Mus­lims, who make up about 14 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

STEPHANE MAHE VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron meet at the El­y­see Palace in Paris on Sun­day.

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