Opposition presidential candidate Meira Kumar on Tuesday said she would contest the election on the basis of ideology not caste, stressing that her plank would be destruction of the caste structure and protection of democratic values.
Kumar, who will contest against National Democratic Alliance’s Ram Nath Kovind for the post of president, described the presidential poll as a “battle of ideologies” and not a “Dalit versus Dalit” fight as was being out made out by some.
The former Lok Sabha speaker is likely to start her campaign from June 30 from Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat after scrutiny of her nomination. She will file her papers on Wednesday in the presence of top opposition leaders.
Addressing her first press conference after being chosen as the joint candidate of 17 opposition parties, she said, “This unity is based on their firm ideological positions, democratic values, inclusiveness, social justice, freedom of press, transparency, end of poverty, destruction of caste structure as some of those cherished values which form an important component of this ideology.
“This ideology is very close to my heart. In the coming election this will be my plank on which I will contest.”
The fact that the election was being viewed as a contest between two Dalits reflected society’s mindset in her view.
“I don’t want that this election for the top position in the country should be contested on the basis of caste. No countryman would want that. We are fighting this on the basis of ideology,” said the former diplomat and daughter of Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram.
Never once was caste discussed in earlier presidential contests. What was up for discussion instead was the candidate’s virtues, eligibility and achievements.
“But when Dalits contest, their caste is being discussed and their virtues become subordinate. So I can clearly see how society is thinking in 2017.
“I want that we should wrap caste and bury it deep inside the ground and our society should move forward.”
Referring to the perception that her selection was on the basis of her caste, she said this was the election for the highest position in the land. Caste had no role.
“Although its process of electing is political, the post itself is apolitical. For this post, in my opinion, there should be no one-upmanship of castes. I don’t think caste identification should play a role.”
On Union minister Sushma Swaraj’s releasing a video of a Lok Sabha speech to indicate how she was treated as leader of opposition, Kumar said leaders of various parties had never criticised her for her style of functioning but appreciated it.
“None had alleged that my style of functioning was biased.”
Kumar described recent attacks on Dalits as “shameful”. “We should hang our heads in shame, even if there is one incident of violence against Dalits.”
“Even today in our country, atrocities are being committed on Dalits, the oppressed and weaker sections... my fight is against that,” Kumar added.
She said she had not decided on whether to appeal to Janata Dal-United leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to support her nomination. However, she had already reached out to each member of the electorate through her letter two days ago in which she made an emotional appeal to their “voice of inner conscience”.
Kumar, also from Bihar, brushed aside charges of irregularities over a bungalow in Luytens Delhi being converted to a memorial dedicated to her father.
“These charges are baseless and are being levelled with the intent of tarnishing my image. The government has given the bungalow to a government body and later a government office.”
Discussing the status of women, she said they were accorded importance in theory but not in practice.
Explaining why she chose to start from Sabarmati, she said Mahatma Gandhi led the freedom struggle and threw out a big empire on the basis of truth and non-violence.
“One derives a lot of strength from there and that is why I am going there.”
Image: Presidential candidate Meira Kumar greets the media as she arrives for the press conference in New Delhi. Photograph: Shirish Shete/PTI Photo