Obscurity to Raisina Hills

RAM NATH KOVIND’S QUIET JOURNEY FROM KANPUR DEHAT, VIA DELHI HIGH COURT AND THE SUPREME COURT, TO RAISINA HILLS HAS BEEN LOW KEY, YET INTERESTING, WRITE SRAWAN SHUKLA

THE campaign for 2014 Parliamentary polls was in its last legs when I stopped at a dhaba between Allahabad and Kanpur for some refreshments. As I entered the eatery, I encountered an elderly gentleman whom I recalled having met several times in BJP headquarters between 1998 and 2004 when BJP was in power. Yes, he was Ram Nath Kovind who used to be a low-key National President of the party’s Scheduled Caste Cell. 

So, what was he doing at a dhaba in the middle of a frenetic election campaign? That too all alone without the company of slogan-shouting supporters or even the mandatory security guards? I asked him the reason. He answered with a straight face, “This election belongs to Modi ji. There is no role for me this time.”

The responsibility was, of course, given to him. Soon after BJP came to power, he was appointed as Governor of Bihar an important position considering the all too volatile relationship between ruling coalition partners JD(U) and RJD. In the case of any rift, the role of Governor assume gargantuan proportion. 

But that was not all. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had more surprises in store for the country. He zeroed in on Kovind as the ruling coalition’s Presidential candidate last month, bypassing more popular names like Sumitra Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj. Suddenly, Kovind was catapulted to national headlines as the opposition was stumped by Modi’s choice. 

The reason is not far to seek. Kovind has been an absolutely non-controversial person. He always kept himself away from the limelight and yet worked steadfastly for the party organisation or for the responsibility assigned to him by the party. 

BEYOND ARCH LIGHTS

Kovind has been so low-key that most people didn’t recognise him before being selected as a Presidential candidate. A journalist who bumped into Kovind at spiritual guru Bhaiyyuji Maharaj’s abode in Indore a couple of months ago did not take kindly to Maharaj’s suggestion to interview Kovind. “Who would like to read the views of an unknown person like Kovind.

After all, he is just one of the Governors of Indian states,” the journalist thought. It emerged later that Kovind’s Indore visit was to get his name circulated among BJP’s top hierarchy for the Vice Presidential election due in August. That means, Kovind never aspired to be the first citizen of India. It was actually a windfall.

Kovind indeed remained faceless for most of his public life. He lost the two elections he contested in his life   Lok Sabha polls from Ghatampur in 1990 and Assembly election from Bhognipur in 2007  both in Kanpur Dehat district. Yet, the party nominated him to Rajya Sabha twice (from 1994-2006) and appointed SC Cell chief.

His tenure in Rajya Sabha too largely remained listless. The height was when as Bihar Governor he went to Shimla to celebrate his marriage anniversary; he was stopped by guards from entering into Presidential Retreat because they didn’t recognise him. The fact that he was not accompanied by guards didn’t help his cause either. 

His childhood friends in his ancestral village Paraukh testify that Kovind was a child of many books and few tricks. “While we would play, Kovind would sit on this podium glued to his textbooks. We used to tease him a lot for being a bookworm but he would just smile back,” says Jaswant Singh, who studied with him till Class VIII.

Another friend Virendra Singh recalls that while they used to be caned by their teachers in school for not doing homework, Kovind would always stand first in the class. “While we were confined to our fields after Class V, Kovind was lucky that his father and sister recognised his talent and sent him for higher studies,” he says.

THE BOOKWORM

Born on October 1, 1945, in Derapur village about 100 kms from Kanpur, Kovind was youngest among five brothers and two sisters. He got his primary education from a school in Khanpur village under Sandalpur block in Kanpur Dehat. His father Maikulal Kovind was a priest in a temple in his native village. His mother died when he was only five-year-old. His elder sister late Gomti Devi raised him and shaped his future. His father, MaiKu Lal, sold off his land in the village to arrange money for his higher studies. 

Kovind travelled about eight kilometres daily to Payagpur Dilwal to pass Class VIII. Seeing his passion for studies, his father sent him to Kanpur along with his sister. One of his brothers, Ram Swarup also shifted to Kanpur to support Kovind. He took admission in BSND Shiksha Niketan, Kanpur, from where he passed Class XII.

HIS FRIENDS SAY HE WAS ALWAYS A BOOKWORM, AND WHILE THEY WOULD BE PLAYING IN THE FIELDS, KOVIND WOULD BE SITTING NEARBY READING HIS BOOKS

He did his graduation from DAV College, Kanpur, and obtained a law degree from Kanpur University. “He worked as s steno in the courtroom to pay up his fees for the law degree,” recalls his brother Ram Swarup. His sister Gomti Devi used to save money to buy books and pay Kovind’s fees. Kovind would often share with his friends that whatever he is today it was because of his sister, who raised him like a mother.

He shifted to Delhi in 1971 and started practising at the Delhi High Court and later at the Supreme Court. He also tried his hands at Civil Services examination. After failing twice, he cracked the exam in the third attempt in 1975 but did not join as he was selected for the allied services.He got married in 1974 to Savita. The couple has a son and a daughter. His son Prashant is a businessman, while daughter Shweta works in an airlines. Kovind has a HIG house in Kanpur’s Maharishi Dayanand Vihar Colony, but no one lives there since the family shifted to Delhi in the early 70s. 

In 1977, he became the OSD of the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai and later on joined the BJP in 1991. Kovind was among the first lot of Dalit faces who joined the saffron party. Despite being a Dalit leader from Uttar Pradesh, the party state unit never used him in the state or central elections. Yet, this very Dalit credential came of use in getting positioned as the first citizen of India. 

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