This week, as all media attention rests on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first face-to-face with President Trump and the burgeoning economic partnership between the two powers, back home in India a historic presidential election is taking place.
In a surprising turn of recent events, both Mr. Modi’s party and the opposition have nominated two Dalits, or “untouchables,” for president.
The National Democratic Alliance, led by Mr. Modi’s BJP party, has chosen former Bihar Gov. Ram Nath Kovind, while the Indian National Congress — a coalition of parties forming the opposition — nominated former Speaker of Parliament Meira Kumar.
Mr. Kovind’s nomination is particularly significant since it was essentially a decision made by Prime Minister Modi and BJP President Amit Shah. Mr. Shah said on numerous occasions the party would nominate a Dalit for president.
In many ways, both candidates represent the aspirations of millions of Dalits: Mr. Kovind, the son of a poor farmer, fought his way through law school and eventually became a respected Supreme Court lawyer and governor. Mrs. Kumar, the daughter of two prominent Dalit activists, became the first woman elected to the post of speaker of Lok Sabha (the lower house of India’s Parliament).
Some political analysts are already saying nominating two Dalits for president is simply an act of tokenism to garner votes. After all, Dalits and scheduled castes constitute a formidable voting bloc. But to those of us who are familiar with India’s long struggle over caste discrimination, especially against Dalits, and religious intolerance, this might just be the biggest news story to break in more than a half-century.
Read more at An ‘untouchable’ for president in India?