It is also a demonstration of Narendra Modi's innovative political strategy by which he has contributed a new narrative to the most revolutionary idea of Mandal as a soothing, synthesizing political initiative. Shri Kovind, hailing from Uttar Pradesh, is a Dalit, and the wide acceptance he has received from across the political spectrum including from Nitish Kumar and Mulayam Singh Yadav has not gone unnoticed.
Venkaiah Naidu, a veteran political figure from Andhra Pradesh belonging to the Kamma community, not only hails from a poor farmer OBC background, but has also been at the forefront of the move for political liberation of the poor and downtrodden in his state.
In Narendra Modi, the BJP projected its first OBC Prime Ministerial face.
As the Presidential and Vice Presidential elections are held, Indian politics has assumed another unique feature. It is for the first time in seven decades that persons with an RSS-BJP background are holding all the three top political posts in the country. It was either people of Congress background or non-BJP moorings who held these positions so far, except for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was elected Prime Minister in 1998 as head of a coalition government.
The Sangh background and the BJP's assimilation of the Mandal revolution will be debated in political circuit for many days to come. The questions that were raised at the time of Shri Modi's election as Prime Minister are now being raised by the so-called liberalists who asked the same question: "is the Indian constitution safe in the hands of Shri Ram Nath Kovind?" What they are alluding to obviously is his RSS-BJP affiliation. He has during his campaign stated clearly that the President is above politics, the political affiliations of the past will not haunt his discharge of constitutional obligations. That Shri Kovind received the total endorsement of the JD (U) Chief Minister Shri Nitish Kumar, who broke the opposition ranks to support him, itself shows how as Governor of Bihar, he was unbiased in his dealings.
The Congress was forced to play the Dalit card after the NDA nominated Shri Kovind as its presidential candidate. It nominated Meira Kumar, former Speaker and a Dalit as its nominee for President. The Congress was guided by pure electoral arithmetic. But Shri Modi with his new social engineering has exposed the Mandal-brand politicians who so far have been waxing eloquent on empowerment of the downtrodden, but have roundly failed in the execution of the idea. It is during Shri Modi's tenure that Baba Saheb Ambedkar, the father of Indian Constitution, has become a prominent icon and a number of institutions are being built in Delhi, Mumbai and Madhya Pradesh to commemorate his great contribution.
The students of political history will remember how V P Singh in 1989 introduced "Mandal" as a major political weapon for consolidating his position. Pandits then predicted that this would end the saffron surge and "Kamandal" (the right-wing political movement of the 1990s) would be a thing of the past. Taking the anti-BJP crusade further, the UPA in 2004 introduced Mandalization in higher academic and professional institutions. But neither V P Singh nor the Congress could get political capital from their masterstroke, perhaps because they used it merely as a slogan than as an act of social empowerment. The announcement of the implementation of the Mandal Commission's recommend by V P Singh led to nation-wide protests, violence and unrest. The Ram Janmabhumi agitation and the Somnath to Ayodhya Ram Rath Yatra by the then BJP President L K Advani was described in political circles as the BJP's answer to Mandal politics which threatened to fragment the Hindu society into two rival camps. In fact, the Ayodhya agitation was undisputedly a massive spectacle consolidating Hindu society and submerging caste conflicts behind the BJP banner. It is now widely seen as the most successful mass movement that India had ever seen. The BJP has never looked back since then. It gained more strength under Shri Modi when he introduced the economic and social emancipation of the most neglected segment of society as the main characteristic of the BJP poll campaign in 2014. Ever since, Modi has emerged as the most socialist and pro-poor politician. Demonetization and GST have been marketed as groundbreaking economic transformations that will open new opportunities for the poorest in the country.
V P Singh lost power when he thought he was invincible and sank into political oblivion thereafter. The Congress, which had for long used the backward communities and Dalits as a vote bank and had been doing only lip service to them, lost this constituency to the BJP, as the party steadily worked on its political base, winning section after section with affirmative action and empowerment rather than appeasement. The BJP, through political innovation and administrative mechanisms, created an environment to win over Dalits and backwards to its fold without allowing the acrimony generated by Mandal politics. And in no way has the party diluted its commitment to national unity and the ideal of "sabka saath, sabka vikaas" (progress for all). Today, the BJP has more OBC Chief Ministers than all other parties put together. It has won more OBC, tribal and Dalit constituencies both in parliament and state assemblies. Shri Modi's 2014 campaign slogan "Congress-mukt bharat" (a country free of the Congress) has culminated in the merging of "Mandal" with "Kamandal" or the saffronization of politics with the empowerment of the downtrodden. This in fact is the most significant aspect of the presidential and vice presidential victories the NDA has achieved in 2017.
(The writer is a member of the BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor, Organiser.)
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