'This is the first time a majority ruling government is nominating a Dalit for President.'
'So, the moral credibility definitely will go with the BJP, particularly Narendra Modi.'
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, professor and director at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad, has been a staunch critic of Narendra Modi.
Before the 2014 general election, he had urged the youth belonging to the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes to avoid voting for Modi.
As a person who changed his name to Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd in protest against the violence meted out to the Dalits -- "To tell the Brahmin: I am now no longer interested in working to reform your spiritual culture" -- he tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier that he welcomes Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah's decision to name Ram Nath Kovind as the National Democratic Alliance's Presidential nominee.
Do you think it is a masterstroke by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to name a Dalit as the Presidential candidate?
It serves two purposes.
One, the BJP has been facing a national crisis with regard to the Dalits.
Ever since the BJP came to power, more than the Muslim issue, it is the Dalit issue that has been putting the party in the dock.
Today, hundreds of Dalits are leaving Hinduism and embracing Buddhism and Christianity; they are protesting publicly too.
Second, the cow issue -- which is being raked up by all Brahmins, sanyasis, matathipathis (head priests of a mutt) and the RSS -- is hitting the Dalits more than anybody else.
Since Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are political baniyas, rather chatur baniyas, they have to buy the goodwill of the Dalits and change this atmosphere.
Do you feel they will be able to buy this goodwill by nominating a Dalit for President?
Anyway, the moral goodwill will come though.
But this is not the first time that we are going to have a Dalit President.
K R Narayanan (1997-2002; India's 10th President) was a much more brilliant man, but you must remember that he was nominated when the Congress was not in power.
It was a minority government under I K Gujral (prime minister from 1997-1998) and it was the Socialists, the Communists and the progressive Congress people who suggested K R Narayanan's name and the Congress supported it.
This is the first time a majority ruling government is nominating a Dalit for President.
So, the moral credibility definitely will go with the BJP, particularly Narendra Modi.
Won't people look at this as tokenism?
Giving so much power to a Dalit is not tokenism.
If the Congress were to say tomorrow that they would make a Dalit the prime minister of India, can you say it is tokenism?
In politics, tokenism and agendas go hand in hand.
Here is a Dalit President and he will open up the gates to many Dalits and people from the lower castes, more than any Brahmin President did till now.
Dalits had no access to Pranab Mukherjee. But when you have a Dalit President, Dalits will have access to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
You must understand that access is very important.
The BJP also can claim that they are not anti-Dalit and they will sort out the cow and other such issues.
Yes, the Congress had supported the first Dalit President, the first Dalit Opposition leader (Mallikarjun Kharge), the first Dalit Lok Sabha Speaker (Meira Kumar) and the first Dalit home minister (Buta Singh).
Mallikarjun Kharge, as the Opposition leader, described the RSS as an Aryan organisation.
He also said, 'We are Dravidians and hence more Indian'. Do you think any Brahmin from the Congress will say that?
Like Mallikarjun Kharge and K R Narayanan, Ram Nath Kovind can also say similar things tomorrow.
For example, if he says, 'No, you can't impose a food ban on Dalit people. Our culture is ours and we can eat whatever we want', you can imagine the kind of change it can bring to Indian society.
Do you think he will take such courageous decisions?
It depends on individuals.
Can we compare him to K R Narayanan?
Yes. This man is a lawyer who has practised in the Supreme Court and perhaps knows the law better than K R Narayanan. He has been in party politics for a long time.
The question is: If the Brahmins and the baniyas try to amend the Constitution on issues like cow slaughter, would he oppose it like K R Narayanan did in 2000-2001 when they tried to amend the Constitution?
K R Narayanan opposed some proposals of the Congress also.
When a man becomes the President, he becomes the most powerful person in the country.
They will want to leave behind a name in history.
That will happen only if you take bold steps and oppose certain ruling class agendas. You don't know; this man might do that.
Ram Nath Kovind was not known till the BJP announced that he was the NDA's Presidential candidate.
Do you think Modi and Shah took everyone by surprise?
Yes, they did.
I thought they would name Draupadi Murmu, the tribal woman from Odisha (currently, the Jharkhand governor).
Even the name Draupadi is very reformist; no upper caste woman has this name.
I think they must have chosen him (Kovind) because he knows the law.
Of course, the Uttar Pradesh issue also must have weighed on their mind as the Dalits in UP are on the warpath.
If the UP Dalit issue catches fire, it will spread to all parts of India.
That could be why they named a Dalit from UP.
Do you think the cattle slaughter bill and cow politics will affect the BJP badly?
It is a major issue and that's why the farmers are rebelling now.
The farmers' economy got hit by two things -- demonetisation and the cattle slaughter rule.
Now, farmers are burdened with all the old animals in their house, unable to even feed them.
Narendra Modi is also helpless.
The RSS Brahmins, the priests and the sanyasis are behind the cattle slaughter issue.
I would say Modi was caught unawares on this issue.
The rule was issued when he was abroad.
It was (Union Minister of Science And Technology; Earth Sciences; Environment Forest and Climate Change) Harsh Vardhan, with the support of the RSS chief (Mohan Bhagwat) who went ahead with the rule.
They want to satisfy the ideological Brahmin agenda.
Modi is the vote mobiliser and he has to meet the farmers.
So, in order to show them that he will not accept all that they (the RSS) do, he has brought in Ram Nath Kovind as the Presidential nominee.
If you look at Modi's tweet, you will know what he feels.
He wrote, 'I hope you will take up the cause of the backwards and the downtrodden. I hope you will speak for them.'
You mean Modi is telling Kovind to speak for them?
Yes, that is what we understand from his tweets.
It also means Modi hopes he will oppose all these things.
Pranab Mukherjee is friendlier with the Brahmins of all parties than the Dalits of every party. He even invited Mohan Bhagwat for lunch.
All Brahmins are united, whichever party they are from.
And all Dalits will have a common ground, whichever party they belong to.
A Dalit as India's President will change everything.
That is the reason why I welcome the decision of Modi and Amit Shah.
Now, the Opposition must nominate a Dalit woman or a tribal woman as the candidate to conduct a good debate.
Not Meira Kumar, as she represents a dynasty.
Sitaram Yechury (general secretary, Communist Party Of India-Marxist) is supporting a Brahmin when Narendra Modi is supporting a Dalit!
Why is Yechury supporting Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the grandson of (Chakravarti) Rajagopalachari?
Captain Lakshmi Sehgal (who was nominated as the Presidential candidate opposite A P J Abdul Kalam by the Communist Party of India, CPI-M, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the All India Forward Bloc in 2002) also was a Brahmin.
It is a Brahmin alliance.
Why didn't Yechury suggest the name of a Dalit or a tribal person?
It is very bad that the Communists are playing Brahmin politics in Delhi.
You called Modi and Shah chatur baniyas.
Both are chatur baniyas and have therefore nominated a Dalit.
In my view, it is a very good move.
It is good that they avoided (Lal Kishinchandas the NDA's Presidential nominee).
I would say these two chatur baniyas are more chatur than Gandhi.
They played a wonderful game!