Kovind’s Victory: Stage Set for Greater Political Drama!

Even if Ram Nath Kovind had not been a Dalit, he would have won the presidential elections. His victory and his being a Dalit have, however, set stage for political drama of much greater dimensions. A beginning has certainly been made towards this with Shankersinh Vaghela parting ways with the Congress. Though Vaghela claims that he is not going to join Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and has talked of there being a conspiracy in the Congress to expel him, his stand may not remain the same in coming days. Vaghela’s present stand certainly indicates that BJP appears to be succeeding in a major political game that it is probably trying its hands at. And this is creating divisions in the Opposition. The opposition parties’ failure to vote en bloc for the candidate fielded by Congress against Kovind proves this. Even though the Congress candidate Meira Kumar is held to be far more popular than Kovind, she has lost with a greater margin than expected. There are reports of Vaghela and his loyalists having voted for Kovind. In Gujarat Assembly, there are 57 legislators of the Congress but Kumar got only 49 votes. This development, a few months ahead of assembly elections in Gujarat, can hardly be said to be pleasing for the Congress.

The possibility of coming days witnessing a greater division in the Opposition ranks cannot be ruled out. The nature of Kovind’s victory suggests that at this stage, BJP’s strategy of fracturing their unity has succeeded. The BJP is apparently keen to reduce the prospects of their uniting against it. At least six parliamentarians from Trinamool Congress (TC) voted for Kovind, even though the party had announced its support for Kumar. There are also reports of Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and some other members of his party having favoured Kovind. Cross-voting from Lalu Prasad’s party Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has also been reported.

Gujarat is not the only state where several Congress members chose to vote against Kumar. In Goa, Kumar was voted for by 11 of 16 Congress members. There have been reports of opposition members voting for Kovind in Delhi, Goa and Maharashtra also. In Delhi, Kovind received two more votes than he was expected to receive. Kumar received only 77 votes in Maharashtra, whereas in keeping with the strength of the Opposition there, 90 members should have voted for her. Similarly, there have been reports of cross-voting in other states, including Madhya Pradesh (MP), Haryana and Uttar Pradesh (UP). There are reports of Kovind gaining two additional votes in Jammu & Kashmir, four in Haryana, 11 in UP, four in Himachal Pradesh, 13 in Maharashtra, six in MP and two in Chhattisgarh.

Undeniably, reports of cross-voting in favour of BJP indicate that the ruling party has succeeded in not just securing victory in these presidential polls but has rung alarm bells for the opposition parties by creating a dent in their vote bank. Does this suggest that BJP is likely to gain greater strength in coming assembly elections as well as the next parliamentary polls?

The BJP is certainly playing its cards to succeed on these fronts. The dent created in the opposition camp may just be the initial phase of greater divisions surfacing in coming days. At present, prospects of opposition parties uniting to form a major alliance against BJP in the forthcoming elections seem fairly limited.  Besides, chances of opposition parties coming together with the Congress at the helm seem to have weakened considerably. Lack of unity shown by opposition parties in extending support for the presidential candidate from the Congress clearly indicates this. In fact, there is no guarantee that the Congress will retain the little strength that it has now in the near future. Voting in favour of Kovind from several Congress members is a pointer in this direction.

It is not clear whether Modi-wave played its part in securing additional votes for Kovind from the ranks of opposition parties. But, additional votes received by Kovind have certainly enhanced the importance of the Modi-wave for several politicians and for BJP supporters.  Paradoxically, in this case, the secular stand of opposition parties appears to have weakened. Little importance has been given to Hindutva (extremism associated with saffron brigade) background of Kovind by opposition members choosing to vote for him.   

The big question is whether BJP’s use of the Dalit-card and/or possible impact of the Modi-wave helped Kovind win with a greater margin than expected. The real story will apparently unfold in the coming days. It is to be watched whether the use of the Dalit-card in these presidential elections helps BJP gain votes of Dalits in future elections. BJP is keen to further weaken the base of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in UP. Kovind hails from UP.  The BSP received a strong electoral blow in 2014 parliamentary elections and the last two UP assembly elections. Though still considered a strong Dalit leader, as yet nothing much can be said about what Kovind’s victory spells for the BSP chief Mayawati’s political fate and also for likes of players such as Vaghela!


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