Ram Nath Kovind: The 'untouchable' set to be India's next president

Member of country's lowest caste celebrates another electoral win for ruling BJP party

Ram Nath Kovind president
(Image credit: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

Ram Nath Kovind, a member of India's lowest caste, is to become the country's next president in yet another electoral win for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nationalist party.

Although the results will not be formally announced until Thursday, the 71-year-old lawyer is said to have secured around 70 per cent of electoral college votes. The president is chosen by a total of 4,896 members of both houses of parliament and state assemblies.

Both Kovind and his Congress Party-backed opponent, Meira Kumar, India's first woman speaker come from India's lowest Dalit caste, formerly known as "untouchables".

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His nomination by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June "was widely seen as part of a decades-long strategy by Hindu nationalists to win over members of the Dalit community", says The Guardian.

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Kumari Mayawati, of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), told the BBC: "This is the first time that Dalit candidates are being pitched from both the sides. Losing-winning is different. But the good part is that a Dalit will become the president of India. It is a huge victory for our movement and party."

It is another electoral defeat for the once-dominant Congress party at the hands of Modi's nationalists.

"On the backfoot" even before the election, says the Indian Financial Express, the party "put a brave face" on the result. Senior members offered a veiled criticism of Kovind, saying the president "should be a person pursuing an ideology under which everybody should be equal for him".

India's presidents fulfil a "largely ceremonial" role, but "do play decisive roles in determining who forms the government when national elections do not produce clear results", says the BBC.

Kovind will be the second president belonging to the Dalit community, after KR Narayanan, who held the position between 1997-2002.

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