NEW DELHI: President of India Ram Nath Kovind seems to be striking a relatively independent path, at least insofar as speeches and rhetoric is concerned. His fairly laudatory statements on Tipu Sultan and more recently Kerala have met with stony silence from the Bharatiya Janata Party that has not hesitated over the years to make its critical views felt on the historical legend and the “Communist ruled” state.

President Kovind, although a BJP nominee and a party member before he was elected to Rashtrapati Bhawan, does not seem to share the ideology if his recent comments can be taken as an indication. On Friday, on the heels of a particularly acrimonious visit by BJP president Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to Kerala, the President sprinkled balm for the angry Left Front government in the state with remarks that praised the state and the government both.

"I understand that the government is making efforts to bridge the digital divide and provide free Internet connections to two million poor families by using a new optic fibre network," he said inaugurating Kerala’s Technocity project at Pallippuram. And called the state the “global face of India.”

For the President Kerala was not just a leader in the IT sector but has a tradition and approach that he described as “humanistic, people-oriented and democratic.” This despite a strident BJP campaign led by Shah and Adityanath hitting out at the Kerala government for attacking RSS cadres, and being anti-democracy. And as against Adityanath’s angry remarks accusing the Kerala government of protecting ‘jihadis,’ President Kovind was of the view that the government had deepened India’s democracy.

"In sanitation, your achievements are praiseworthy. In local self-government and panchayati raj, again Kerala has deepened our democracy," he said.

These remarks come soon after President Kovind raised another hornets nest for the BJP by praising Mysore leader Tipu Sultan who has always been projected by the party as an “anti Hindu tyrant.” In fact BJP Union Minister Anantkumar Hegde had described the Mysore warrior as a "brutal killer, wretched fanatic and mass rapist".

For the President however, "Tipu Sultan died a historic death fighting the British.: He was addressing the Karnataka Assembly and his speech was welcomed by the Congress legislators thumping their desks in appreciation. "He was also a pioneer in the development and use of Mysore rockets in warfare. This technology was later adopted by the Europeans," President Kovind said.

A highly embarrassed BJP had no explanation except for the feeble insistence that the President of India’s speech was drafted by the Congress government of Karnataka.

But surely, the question that Congress legislators posed in Bengaluru, the President of India does not read text without understanding the words? Besides the President’s speeches are written by his secretary and vetted by others in his staff. Speeches on national days are cleared by the Union government. A state government provides inputs for the event the President is scheduled to attend, but these can be taken or rejected by the President whose speech is his own, although in recent years the central government does like to have a say. Given the fact that President Kovind was earlier with the BJP, it was being assumed by the political parties that he would be more pliable to suggestions (they cannot be termed as more than that) from the central government that would have a greater say in the President's itinerary and speeches particularly when he was visiting states such as Kerala and Karnataka being governed by the arch rivals of the BJP in the Opposition.

President Kovind does seem to be striking a more conciliatory line with his speeches certainly not pushing a political line. In fact he has been fairly embracing of historical figures, and others, in his various speeches since taking oath that include individuals the BJP is not particularly fond of. The speeches of the President have one recurring theme: references to individuals for their contributions in any field he might be speaking of. And here he is not discriminatory or partisan and tends to include political leaders or judges as well who might not be seen as kosher by the BJP for their anti-positions in the past.

Hence Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru are not left out of President Kovind’s references,. In fact his list of freedom fighters is comprehensive and non-partisan in his admiration. Sample this:

“Freedom fighters like Sardar Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Birsa Munda and thousands of others gave their lives for us. We can never forget them.

From the earliest days of our freedom struggle, we were blessed with a galaxy of revolutionary leaders who guided our country.

They spoke of not just political freedom. Mahatma Gandhi emphasised the moral character of India and of Indian society. The principles that Gandhiji spoke about are relevant even today.

Gandhiji was not alone in this nationwide struggle for freedom and reform. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose exhorted our people, saying: "Give me blood and I will give you freedom”. At his word, millions of Indians joined the freedom movement under his leadership and gave their all.

Nehruji emphasised that India’s age-old heritage and traditions – so dear to us – could co-exist with technology and a quest to modernise our society.

Sardar Patel instilled in us the importance of national unity and integrity. And of a disciplined national character.

Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar urged upon us the virtues of constitutional governance, of the rule of law – and of the vital need for education.”

The President has been wholesome in his praise for the Kerala High Court and its judges. During his visit to the state he singled out eminent judges for laurels, such as

Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer, a known critic of the BJP and its right wing affiliates. He described Justice Iyer as a “judge of remarkable humanist values and the conscience keeper of the legal fraternity in our country,” while addressing members of the Kerala legal fraternity. He showered praise on the Kerala High Court for its “sensitivity to people’s rights and civil liberties.”

Again while speaking in Karnataka the President went out of his way to praise the contribution of the former chief ministers of the state, speaking of the first three who held the post – K.C. Reddy, Kengal Hanumanthaiah and Kadidal Manjappa. And going on to the “many other names we must recall and cherish –S. Nijalingappa, Devraj Urs, B.D. Jatti, who later became Vice-President of India, Ramakrishna Hegde, S.R. Bommai, Veerendra Patil, S.M. Krishna and of course our former Prime Minister and my friend, Shri H. D. Deve Gowda.” Needless to say most in the list have been vigorously hostile to the BJP.

President Kovind took over office on July 25, 2017, three months ago. This is the initial story. Watch this space for the next chapters.