Ram Nath Kovind has grown through the ranks of right-wing politics, all along raising his voice for the welfare of Dalits and presenting their issues. That’s what has made Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s choice for the NDA's presidential candidate something no sane Opposition leader can turn down. But, beyond being a crusader for Dalit rights, Kovind was also known in some circles for his strong views and policy positions, along with some controversial decisions that will be interesting to revisit at this juncture.
Kovind was one of the big supporters of Modi’s move to demonetise around 86 percent of the country's cash — one of the biggest economic policies implemented by the NDA government in the first three years of its rule. In fact, there is an interesting contrast in the views of Kovind and those of current president Pranab Mukherjee on the note ban. While Kovind is a big fan of Modi’s November demonetisation drive, Mukherjee has cautioned the government on the possible consequences on the economy and the lives of poor people, after initially welcoming it.
In December last year, speaking at the annual function of the Bihar Chamber and Commerce in Patna, Kovind said, "Demonetisation is a positive effort in the direction to free the society of black money and corruption... As a result of demonetisation, weaker sections of society will get relief while financial and trade activities will get a boost through the greater transparency the measure will bring in".
As against this, in January this year, Mukherjee had warned that demonetisation could lead to a temporary slowdown of the economy. "Demonetisation, while immobilising black money and fighting corruption, may lead to a temporary slowdown of the economy," Mukherjee had said. Further, he also cautioned that the government must be "extra careful" to alleviate the suffering of the poor. "We will all have to be extra careful to alleviate the suffering of the poor which might become unavoidable for the expected progress in the long term," Mukherjee said, adding that while he welcomed the thrust on the transition from an entitlement-driven approach to an entrepreneurial one for poverty alleviation, he was not too sure that the "poor can wait that long", referring to the expected long-term gains of the note ban and the ability of the poor to wait till then.
In hindsight, Kovind’s expectations on the positive outcome of Modi’s demonetisation exercise haven’t come true, at least going by the evidence so far. In fact, the whole exercise turned out to be a disastrous economic move, although its long-term gains are still debated. In the January-March quarter, the GDP fell to 6.1 percent from eight percent from the corresponding quarter a year prior. Also, the note ban has resulted in major job losses impacting the poor.
According to this Financial Express report, casual workers were among the worst hit by demonetisation. The report quotes Labour Bureau data, to say that around 1.52 lakh casual workers engaged across eight sectors, including manufacturing and IT/BPO, lost their jobs during the three-month period of October to December 2016.
Contrary to the presidential candidate's expectations, the weaker sections and trade activities in the country didn’t really benefit from the note ban shock, and, and are still in shock from the unprecedented cash crunch inflicted on their businesses. In fact political parties, both the BJP’s allies and opponents (read here and here), have pointed to demonetisation as the main reason that the hardships for farmers were exacerbated. This in turn has triggered requests for a series of farm loan waivers across states, that is now estimated to be worth around Rs 3.1 lakh crore (read report here) putting a massive burden on state exchequers and leading to the destruction of credit culture. Kovind’s prediction on the note ban has been proved wrong.
As defence witness in the 2001 former BJP president Bangaru Laxman bribery case, Kovind deposed that he knew Laxman for the "last 20 years". He deposed that Laxman was a straightforward, simple and honest person, who became president of the BJP.
Eventually, Laxman was convicted in the case and was arrested, while the BJP distanced itself from the case saying the matter referred to Laxman’s personal conduct.
Some 16 years later, when Kovind is now the presidential candidate of the NDA, this old case and the position taken by him might raise fresh questions to the BJP leadership that is running an anti-corruption campaign.
Views about other religions
Third, Kovind expanded his support base both in the party and outside, presenting himself as a crusader for Dalits. Back in 2003, when he was a member of Parliament, the former president of the BJP Dalit Morcha and president of the All-India Koli Samaj said tougher laws needs to be in place to check atrocities against Dalits. But, he was against an anti-conversion law saying it "would be in contravention of the spirit of the Constitution, which gave the people the right to practise the religion of their choice".
Kovind, however, opposed reservations in government jobs for religious minorities in 2010, when he was acting as a BJP spokesperson. The backdrop was the Ranganath Misra Commission report, that recommended a 15 percent quota in government jobs for socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities in India. Back then, Kovind opposed the commission’s report saying, "Including Muslims and Christians in the Scheduled Castes category will be unconstitutional." He also added, "Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation," when asked why Sikh Dalits were given quota privileges and not Muslims and Christians, according to the report.
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Updated Date: Jun 21, 2017 09:36:06 IST