BARABANKI, UTTAR PRADESH:As Ram Nath Kovind, India’s second Dalit President after KR Narayanan, took oath on Tuesday, there was hardly a ripple in Mubarakpur — a Dalit majority village just 30 km from Lucknow and 200 km from the Presidents’ hometown in Kanpur Dehat. There is no consensus about whether a Dalit taking over the country’s highest office would bring a change in the fortunes of the community.
The BJP had pitched the choice of Mr Kovind as an outreach to the Dalit community – a move seen as an attempt to expand its support base. It also divided the opposition, getting on board key opposition leader Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and forced reluctant allies like Shiv Sena to support the government’s candidate.
The opposition pitched Meira Kumar, the daughter of Dalit icon Jagjivan Ram. Mayawati, who has a large support base among Dalits, followed up with a high optics resignation from Rajya Sabha claiming she wasn’t given enough time to raise issues related to the Dalit community.
At the village chaupal or common gathering centre of Mubarakpur – where 600 of the village’s 1000 residents are Dalits – the subject generated mild interest.
Ravi Kumar, a 30-year-old pharmacist and a Dalit, pointed to a statue of Bhim Rao Ambedkar some 200 m away. Installed in the ’90s, the statue stands on unkempt grass. A boundary wall came up recently, funded by villagers and not the government, Mr Kumar stressed.
President Ram Nath Kovind may be a Dalit but “when we benefit on the ground, only then we will agree that there could be some advantage. When a person soars very high, sometimes he forgets to look below. So we will wait and watch,” he said of the new president.
Seated next to him, 52-year old marginal farmer Pyarelal Gautam disagreed. “We have hopes that our social status will improve. He is from the Dalit community. I’m sure he will raise issues related to us,” said Mr Gautam.
In Barabanki’s Raghai village, 5 km from Mubarakpur and with a sizeable Dalit population, many are unaware who Ram Nath Kovind is.
Rukmani devi, whose family of five can barely make ends meet, has heard of the new president but says toilets and better drainage facilities in her village are much more pressing issues. “If the president has come from a poor family, perhaps he will understand the problems of the poor. But this is all about politics and opportunism at the end of the day,” she said.