Call for low caste pres­i­dent

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

NEW DELHI: In­dia’s rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has pro­posed that a politi­cian from a low caste be­come the next pres­i­dent, its top strate­gist said yes­ter­day, in a move to con­sol­i­date the party’s sup­port among poorer vot­ers.

The BJP’s par­lia­men­tary board backed the nom­i­na­tion of Ram Nath Kovind, the gov­er­nor of the state of Bi­har, party pres­i­dent Amit Shah told a news con­fer­ence in New Delhi.

Kovind’s nom­i­na­tion to the largely cer­e­mo­nial post of pres­i­dent would be ex­pected to gar­ner enough votes from the BJP and its al­lies in an elec­toral col­lege that brings to­gether fed­eral and state law­mak­ers.

“We hope to have a po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus,” Shah said.

Shah, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s clos­est ad­viser and top cam­paign strate­gist, played up the hum­ble ori­gins of Kovind, 71, who has served two terms in the up­per house of par­lia­ment and is a prac­tis­ing lawyer.

Kovind also used to lead a BJP unit that rep­re­sents Dal­its, a com­mu­nity at the bot­tom of the tra­di­tional caste hi­er­ar­chy of Hin­duism.

“Ram­nath has risen through the po­lit­i­cal ranks, wag­ing a long and hard strug­gle as a Dalit,” said Shah.

The BJP’s tra­di­tional sup­port base is among up­per-caste Hin­dus, but the party has sought to broaden its ap­peal, win­ning a land­slide vic­tory in a state elec­tion in Ut­tar Pradesh in March with the back­ing of many low-caste vot­ers.

Nom­i­na­tions close on June 28 and the elec­toral col­lege would hold a vote, should one be re­quired, on July 17, ac­cord­ing to the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of In­dia.

Un­der a com­plex elec­toral for­mula, the BJP and its al­lies con­trol 48.1% of votes in the elec­toral col­lege.

They should be able to count on enough sup­port from other par­ties to se­cure a ma­jor­ity, say BJP of­fi­cials.

In­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee’s term ends on July 24.

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