Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Wednesday claimed that Ram Nath Kovind might have been appointed the president because of his caste. Gehlot said that if not Kovind, Bharatiya Janata Party veteran LK Advani would have been chosen for the post. However, the Congress leader later alleged that the media had misquoted him.
“I was reading an article. When elections were coming in Gujarat, he [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] was anxious that he would not be able to form a government,” Gehlot said in Jaipur, NDTV reported. “One by one, [BJP chief] Amit Shah’s tricks came to the fore. I believe he must have suggested Kovind’s name as president, with caste considerations in mind.”
Gehlot claimed this was because the BJP wanted to appease the Koli community in Gujarat ahead of the Assembly elections in 2017. “Because elections were coming in Gujarat, they were perplexed that they are not going to form a government in the state,” Gehlot said in Jaipur. “I believe that this appointment of Ram Nath Kovind for the post of president was in order to appease the caste semantics. Advani got left out in this. The country was hoping that Advani will finally get the honour which is due to him.”
Assembly elections were held in Gujarat in December 2017, over four months after Kovind’s appointment as president.
Gehlot’s statement comes a day before the second phase of elections. Ninety-one parliamentary constituencies will vote on Thursday.
Later, the Rajasthan chief minister claimed that the media had misquoted him. “It is very unfortunate that my comments during press conference have been misquoted by few media houses,” he tweeted. “I have the greatest regards for the President of India, and personally for Shri Ramnath ji whom I have met in person and highly impressed with his simplicity and humbleness.”
The BJP has appealed to the Election Commission to issue a notice to Gehlot. The poll body should also issue a directive asking political parties to not make such remarks about the president, said the party.
A Dalit BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh, Kovind is a two-time member of Rajya Sabha and the former national spokesperson of the party. He became a Rajya Sabha MP in April 1994 from Uttar Pradesh and served two consecutive terms for 12 years till March 2006.
Kovind had headed the BJP’s Scheduled Caste Morcha between 1999 and 2002. During this period, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the BJP’s general secretary. Kovind has also been a member of several parliamentary committees.
Kovind was the president of the All India Koli Samaj, an organisation that represents the interests of the Koli community, which is classified as scheduled caste in Uttar Pradesh.