In a historically defining moment, a member of the Dalits may soon become President.
Ram Nath Kovind, the governor of Bihar, is a member of the Untouchables or Dalits, the poorest and lowest caste of India’s gruelling caste system and the most oppressed.
Kovind was nominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Over 1000 Indian members of Parliament voted in a secret nationwide ballot to decide the next President.
India currently has a system in which the country has both a Prime Minister and President, with the President being the first citizen of the nation, having far reaching powers particularly over the army, but is largely a ceremonial position as the Prime Minister exercises powers and controls the government.
The one Kovind must beat is fellow ‘Dalit’ Meira Kumar, nominated by the opposition party. The Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said their battle was “one of ideologies” and that “The president should be a person pursuing an ideology under which everybody should be equal for him. And when there is a clash of ideologies, I think our candidate is the best.”
Dalits has historically suffered severe persecution in India due to beliefs that they are impure, however today, Dalits make up a large portion of the electorate and hence, are a key factor in elections.
Furthermore, winning their support promotes Modi’s vision of a united Hinduism and united India.