Raj Bhavan for man who shunned TV

"Kovind who?" That's how Bihar politicians reacted to Ram Nath Kovind's appointment as the new Bihar governor.

By Our Special Correspondent in Patna
  • Published 9.08.15

Patna, Aug. 8: "Kovind who?" That's how Bihar politicians reacted to Ram Nath Kovind's appointment as the new Bihar governor.

Most BJP leaders in the state were unaware of his name. Expectedly, the Nitish Kumar government is weary. "This is the first time the Centre did not inform the chief minister on the new appointment. Nitish heard of it from the media. The Centre is not following constitutional norms. Whoever he is, the state government expects pure constitutional activity from him," water resources minister and Nitish confidant Vijay Chaudhary said.

It was left to BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi to highlight the importance of having Kovind as governor at a time the state is heading for polls. "I congratulate Kovind for being appointed the new governor. He hails from the Dalit classes," Modi told The Telegraph.

This is not the first time Kovind, a former BJP national spokesperson, two-term Rajya Sabha MP, former chief of the BJP's SC/ST Morcha (1998 to 2002) and Supreme Court lawyer, fits in the BJP's Dalit scheme of things. "In the 2012 Uttar Pradesh elections, Rajnath Singh had used Kovind to campaign in the Dalit areas to counter Mayawati. He is said to be close to the Union home minister. BJP sources said he lived a spartan lifestyle in a rented apartment in Delhi's Kalibari before becoming an MP in 1994. Known to avoid controversy, he never appeared on television when he was party spokesperson. He was also the SC/ST representative at IIM-Calcutta.

Rajnath wanted to project him as the BJP's Dalit face. "But the Brahmin lobby in the Uttar Pradesh BJP feared he would become another Kalyan Singh - who keeps coming and going from the party," said a BJP leader from UP. However, Kovind stayed loyal to the party though he failed to bring any tangible Dalit gains. He hails from Kanpur and this is the second time the BJP is trying to tap his Dalit credentials.

Appointment of a new governor in Bihar was long overdue, ever since D.Y. Patil's tenure ended in November 2014. Bengal governor Keshari Nath Tripathi had been given additional charge of Bihar. Kovind's sudden appointment has led to a political strife with the Nitish government making it clear they are not ecstatic about his appointment while the BJP hailed the arrival of the "Dalit governor".

Kovind's importance at this stage in Bihar can be understood from the fact that the BJP has two major Dalit leaders in its fold - former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi who belongs to the Musahar (rat-eating) community and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who holds sway over the 4 to 5 per cent Dussadh voters. "Apart from these two major Dalit sections, there are the Chamars, who are substantial in numbers. Kovind hails from this section," said a senior BJP leader, pointing out it was crucial for the NDA to get a major chunk of the 16 per cent Dalit votes if it hopes to win the Assembly polls. "Whichever section he belongs to hardly matters to the JDU government. However, if the new governor sees what our government has done for the Dalits, he should appreciate it," minister Vijay Kumar said.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad condemned Kovind's appointment and said he would register his protest with the President as Kovind belongs to the RSS.

Incidentally, favourable governors have played havoc during election years in Bihar. After the 2000 Assembly elections, then governor V.C. Pande gave Nitish - then in the NDA - the first shot at forming a government even though the NDA did not have the numbers. Nitish lasted less than two weeks. After the February 2005 Assembly elections, then governor Buta Singh stalled the NDA's efforts to form a government by getting the House dissolved on the pretext that he was checking "horse trading". Even without elections, the Lalu-Rabri regime had a difficult time when Sundar Singh Bhandari or Pande resided at the Raj Bhavan.

Even Nitish had an uneasy equation with Devanand Konwar. "A highly suspicious government and JDU await Kovind," said a minister on condition of anonymity.