OPINION
Of President, Veep & Facts
Commander-in-chief Ram Nath Kovind, and humour
- KAMJAAT SINGH
Commander-in-chief Ram Nath Kovind, and humour



ONE OF BJP's top mission statements could not have been more pithy: the party wanted to ensure a Congress-mukt Bharat. It has now ensured that the superstructure ruling in Lutyen's Delhi is completely Congress-mukt. 

Ram Nath Kovind is now the commander-in-chief of India's armed forces. M Venkaiah Naidu will be India's vice-president in a week's time, and will lord over the Rajya Sabha as well as the influential Rajya Sabha TV. 

The question as to what will change in India's politics with these appointments was answered loudly in the Central Hall of Parliament the day Kovind swore that he will protect the Constitution. Its spirit was violated within minutes, with the entire political establishment watching.

Do not be fooled by the pomp and show that precedes a new resident of Raisina Hill moving in. The 21-gun salute, the horse driven carriage, the stately walk, the braided men surrounding the gravely serious looking, the maha-mahim blah-blah notwithstanding, something else made history that day. Minutes after a man said he will protect India's Constitution that has the principle of a secular nation state embedded in its preamble, his ascension was hailed by slogans of Jai Sri Ram in the Central Hall of Parliament. 
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Do not be fooled by Kovind's reference to India's diversity. True, he did say that "India's unity in diversity was the key to its success," but here is the exact sentence: "We are a country of great diversity, yet have shown that unity is the way forward." His ascension was hailed by slogans of Jai Sri Ram in the Central Hall of Parliament.

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This was a first for India's Constitutional and parliamentary history. The fact that neither the Congress nor the Left parties nor any of the sundry regional parties made an issue out of it underlines the powerlessness to which these players have been reduced in the Bhagwat-Modi-Amit Shah scheme of things.

Students of India's contemporary political history have no doubt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put an ally in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. India's 14th president, Ram Nath Kovind, may have come from a humble background, but he is a far cry from KR Narayanan. 

Those who got fooled by Kovind's reference to India's diversity need to go back and read his maiden speech again. True, he did say that "India's unity in diversity was the key to its success." But then Kovind's reference was merely to stress the RSS-BJP idea of unity, not the Nehruvian idea of diversity. Here is the exact sentence that he spoke: "We are a country of great diversity, yet have shown that unity is the way forward."
 
He did say that he has "come from a humble background (and that he) will stand by and represent all 125 crore fellow Indians," but those words still need to be tested. For Kovind, given NDA's numerical strength in the Lok Sabha, in several Assemblies and Modi's personal outreach to parties outside the pale of the NDA, moving into the Rashtrapati Bhawan was the easier part. 
The tougher part will come when Kovind faces a challenge in that mansion. Will he take the Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed route? Will he be a mere Pratibha Patil? Or will he be a KR Narayanan, a fellow Dalit?

Kovind’s success or failure will be decided on the basis of whether he lets his saffron grounding to colour his decision making and conduct. Had he stopped for a moment in that Central Hall of Parliament and pointed a finger towards the sloganeering men and said, "Not here," it would have given him a new image makeover.

Political experts are near unanimous that the BJP's choice of Kovind was propelled by its anxiety to shed the anti-Dalit tag that it acquired following a number of ‘gau rakshak’ attacks on Dalits. The widening gulf between the Dalit community and the BJP started with Rohit Vemula’s suicide, and now threatens the party’s non-Jatav votes.
It is yet to be seen if Kovind will become a mere instrument for garnering Dalit votes for BJP, but that is still a minor question when compared to bigger fears: Will he speak his mind against acts of bigotry in society? Will he be able to ensure that the brute majority does not bulldoze constitutional parameters? Will he hesitate to send bills back for reconsideration in case of constitutional impropriety?

BJP leader Ram Madhav recently postulated that "Kovind and Modi represent the true India - Marx’s proletariat and Socrates’ philosopher rolled into one.” We leave a comment on Saffron Humour for another day. 

For the moment, a minor interjection will suffice, necessitated only by the insistence on the part of the BJP-RSS to project Kovind as the first president from the state of Uttar Pradesh, and the readiness of the rest of the Indian media to gulp that claim.
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For those arguing that Venkaiah Naidu's elevation as Veep will help the BJP in winning the South, here is a minor fact: Naidu will be defeating not only the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi from Gujarat but also the grandson of C. Rajagopalachari from Tamil Nadu. No wonder Modi remembers the corruption-tainted dead Amma when he goes to Tamil Nadu, even when he hails Nitish for fighting against corruption.
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Indian newspapers and television channels do not employ fact-checkers, a practice most western mastheads follow. But surely, editorial memories could not have been so limited?
Zakir Hussain was not born in Uttar Pradesh, but he was virtually brought up there. He studied at the Aligarh Muslim University where he was also a student leader. He founded the Jamia Milia Islamia. He was conferred a Bharat Ratna and was also, like Kovind, the Governor of Bihar. When he became the Vice President, and then the President of India, he was seen as someone from Uttar Pradesh. Today, Kovind is hailed as the first President from Uttar Pradesh, and even Zakir Hussain's grandson, Salman Khurshid, does not squeak to set the record straight. That, perhaps, can only be attributed to an attempt at Black Humour. 
 
Come August 5, and Venkaiah Naidu will defeat Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, in an RSS versus Gandhi Contest 2.0. Vir Savarkar lost round one at Independence. 

But for those arguing that Naidu's elevation as Veep can help the BJP in winning the South, here is a minor fact (since media has little time for fact checking): Naidu will be defeating not only the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi from Gujarat but also the grandson of C. Rajagopalachari from Tamil Nadu. 

Now you know why Modi remembers the corruption-tainted dead Amma so much when he goes to Tamil Nadu, even when he tweets ‘Hail Nitish’ for fighting against corruption. When Saffron and Black Humour mix, it produces a stink.

By the way, now that India has a president ushered in with Jai Sri Ram slogans, do you by any chance need a tank for your local school, college or university? Just drop a postcard addressed to Raisina Hill. And no joking this time. 
 
 

(Kamjaat Singh is an academic activist who also dabbles in journalism and writes under a pseudonym, with interests covering media, communications, academics, law, cinema and life. Kamjaat Singh, who will be regularly writing for Punjab Today, can be reached at kamjaatsingh@gmail.com.)
 

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