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India's Presidential Election 2017

India's Presidential election on July 17 is going to be a Dalit vs Dalit affair. After the NDA picked up Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, as their Presidential candidate, the opposition announced former Lok Sabha Speaker; Meira Kumar, an iconic Dalit as its candidate, making the contest for the country’s highest post, a battle royal between Dalit vs Dalit.

In the selection of the two Dalit candidates, by the respective political formations, the message is loud and clear that this time the Presidential election is going to a referendum on the Dalit question. As to how Dalits fit into the BJP’s Hindutva version of caste pantheon and the how the Congress treats Dalits in its version of secularism.

Dalit means "oppressed" in Sanskrit and "broken/scattered" in Hindi. It is a self-chosen political name given to the members of the lower-castes who were excluded from the four-fold Varna system and formed the unmentioned fifth Varna in the Hindu caste system.

The name Dalit has been popularized by the reformer B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956) in the twentieth century. According to the 2011 Census, 16.6 per cent of India's population is Dalits or SCs. That's nearly 20.14 crore people.

The NDA's Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind is has handpicked for the post for his social identity and his political affiliation to the BJP that panders to the ideas of the RSS, the fountain head of Hindutva ideology. A small time lawyer from UP, he has been made the governor of Bihar only for his loyalty to the BJP and the RSS.

In comparison to Kovind, Meira Kumar is much towering figure. She is the daughter of Babu Jagjivan Ram, India's iconic alit leader who have been part of freedom struggle and a minister in successive Congress governments. Mera Kumar belongs to Indian Foreign Service and had held post of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or the lower house. She is a Congress leader and swears by its ideology in its letter and spirits.

The election for the President of India takes places through an electoral college. The total strength of the Electoral College comprises all the elected MPs and members of legislative assemblies of all states and the Union Territories.

The vote weightage of an MLA vote depends on the population of the state whereas the value of one MP vote is 708 votes. So the total vote value of Electoral College comes to; 10, 98,903. The halfway mark is 5, 49,452 votes. A candidate has to get fifty per cent plus votes to win the presidential poll.

It is expected that the BJP candidate Ram Nath Kovind is set to get around 7 lakh votes. This is over 62 per cent votes and around two-thirds of the total Electoral College.

The chances of Kovind of registering a comfortable win is because some of the major non-NDA parties like; the JD-U, the BJD, the AIADMK, the TRS, the INLD and the YSR-Congress are support to him. The non-NDA parties extending their support to Kovind has assured of 6, 82,677 votes.

On the other hand, Meira Kumar has only 3, 76,261 committed votes. This is thirty four per cent or one-third of the total collegium vote. Even she gets the support of some parties like the RJD, the SP, the BSP, the TMC and the CPI-M, she may only get around 4 lakh votes.

There are around 39,965 fence siting votes of parties like the AAP, the AIMIM and some Independents. Even if they favor the Congress candidate, it will not make any difference to the outcome of the poll.

Of the total 776 MPs in the Presidential election, Kovind has the support of 524 MPS. This includes 337 of the BJP. So, the NDA nominee Kovind will get 3, 70,992 MPs votes and 3, 11, 685 votes may come from state legislators.

In comparison to Kovind, Meira Kumar has the support of only 235 MPs. This may fetch her 1, 66,380 votes of MPs and the remaining 2, 09,881 will come from the state legislators. After adding the two together it will falls much short of the figures that are expected by the NDA Presidential candidate.

The opposition aware of the chances of Meira Kumar in the July 17 Presidential election and it’s now making the Presidential election an ideological battle. It wants the voting to take place on Dalit question and not on the party lines. The opposition is pitching for the better of the two candidates and canvasing for the call of the consciousness vote for the better Dalit candidate. This is because voting for the Presidential election is done through a secret ballot and the party whip does not apply. The Presidential election 2017 tilt will depend on the campaign strategy of the contestants of the ruling party and the opposition, but the Dalit vs Dalit contest has thrown open some interesting questions to the people of India.

Will the aspirations of the Dalits be assuaged in the Presidential election 2017? In an open voting by the Dalits, can BJP nomine Ram Nath Kovind or Meira Kumar, cross the halfway mark? If not, then why both the BJP and the Congress are fooling the Dalits making the Presidential election a Dalit vs Dalit contest.

The Presidential election 2017 is a contest between two political parties. It’s not a battle between Hindutva vs. Congress ideology and the Dalit question. Even if Ram Nath Kovind becomes the President, it’s not that the Dalit question has been settled in favor Hindutva. It can never be construed as the true representation of the Dalit’s aspirations.

Notwithstanding the facts, the fact remains that even though Meira Kumar may have high credentials for being a President of India but the irony of electoral compulsions is, she may not occupy the highest office of the country. This is the bitter truth and the harshest reality of the Presidential election of India.

-Syed Ali Mujtaba