Springing a surprise, India’s ruling party BJP on Monday named Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit and a BJP leader, as the NDA’s candidate for the 17 July presidential election.
“We have decided that Ram Nath Kovind will be the NDA Presidential candidate,” Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah said after a nearly two-hour meeting here of the party’s Parliamentary Board attended by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and senior leaders.
He said the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance had been discussing the presidential election for long.
“The BJP also discussed the issue with all political parties and several sections of the society. After this, a long list (of candidates) was prepared which was discussed during the Parliamentary Board meeting,” Shah told the media.
Kovind, 72, who emerged as the dark horse, is likely to file the nomination on 23 June, he said. If elected, he will be the second Indian president after KR Narayanan to hail from the Dalit community.
The earlier names which were doing the rounds for presidency included external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan.
While all NDA allies have been informed of the BJP choice, Indian prime minister Modi talked to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders about the NDA choice, the BJP president said.
Modi also spoke with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar (JD-U), Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao (TRS) and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu (TDP).
Senior BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu spoke to party veterans LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi.
“Ram Nath comes from a Dalit family and has struggled a lot. We hope he will be the unanimous candidate for the election,” Shah said.
He said Kovind had had a long innings in public life and fought for the cause of Dalits and the poor.
An advocate by profession, Kovind was made the governor of Bihar two years ago after the NDA took power in the centre in May 2014.
He once headed the BJP’s Dalit wing. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha for 12 years and was a member of several parliamentary panels.
He had practised law in both High Court and the Supreme Court.