By nominating Ram Nath Kovind as the Presidential candidate, BJP has tried to play the politics of tokenism to the hilt. Kovind is a Dalit from UP. While many names were doing round from BJP parivar, finally they settled for a person who is Dalit in name and Hindu nationalist in ideology.

The last three years of the Modi Sarkar has not only seen rising violence against Muslims, religious minorities but also against Dalits in particular. Starting from the banning of the Periyar Study circle in IIT Madras, to creating a situation where Rohith Vemula, a Dalit research scholar, had to take his life, to ‘cow-violence’ against Dalits in Una, the Dalits as a social group have come under severe attack. This is a by product of Hindu nationalist politics.

Apart from this; there are also instances where a Central minister equated Dalits to dogs, a BJP leader, UP BJP vice President Kripa Shankar Singh said that Mayawati was worst than a prostitute. Incidentally he was reprimanded for the record, but through the back door his wife was given a ticket for the state Assembly elections and later was made a minister in the Adityanath cabinet in UP.

To add salt to the injury one saw the horrific anti-dalit violence against Dalits in Saharanpur asAdityanath came to power and upper caste were empowered even further. When the Bhim Army under Chandrasekhar protested against the attack on Dalits, the young Dalit leaders were arrested while the attackers were left off with minor charges.

This move of nominating Kovind, seems to be a superficial attempt to assuage the deep injury inflicted upon the Dalits. One recalls here that after the Gujarat carnage, orchestrated on the pretext of Godhra train burning, and the deep wounds inflicted upon Muslims in Gujarat APJ Abdul Kalam was chosen by the BJP to be the President of India. It was another tokenism, which did not change the deeper anti minority dynamics. This is what tokenism is supposed to be doing, creating an impression that one is offering a helping hand.

Kovind’s opinions as reflected in many of his statement show that he regards Islam and Christianity as alien religions. This came out when he was participating in the debate on the Ranganath Mishra commission report, when the issue of reservations for Dalits converting to Islam or Christianity came up for discussion. Kovind says that education should have primacy over reservations, undermining reservations for Dalits.

As a part of the BJP, Kovind has been trying to woo the non-Jatav Dalits in UP in particular. BJP-RSS have won over sections of Dalits. Likes of Ram Vilas Paswan, who has been compromising the interests of Dalits for personal aggrandisement, said that all those who oppose Kovind should be regarded as anti Dalit!

What does it mean to be a Dalit leader today? There are many of the likes of Kovind and Paswan who seal their lips when atrocities against Dalits are going on and are rising. The Dalit leadership is in a dilemma today. Many of the Ramvilas Paswan variety of Dalit leaders are aligned with Hindu Nationalist politics of BJP-RSS as it gives them perks and power. But there is a large number of others who are engaging in the discourse concerning the survival and dignity of the Dalits, for their rights as equal citizens. For Dalits the major achievement has been the coming the Indian Constitution, a document giving them theoretical equality. It gives them the ground on which they can stand and struggle for their rights.

Lately the RSS combine has been making attempts to pay respect to Ambedkar, by calling him a Great Hindu, by observing his anniversary on a grand scale etc. Ambedkar’s politics and Hindu nationalist politics are polar opposites. Ambedkar stands for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity while Hindu nationalism is for the hierarchical values of Vedic times.

The election of the President of India is not about tokenism or religion specific nationalism. It is for the Indian Constitution, for equality, rights, freedoms and the rule of law. What will Kovind uphold as President of India, the former or the latter?

(Cover Photograph: published by the INDIAN EXPRESS of police presence at a village during protests in Gujarat after Dalits were stripped and beaten by a mob)