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World

AFP
July 15, 2017
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India set to elect President from Dalit cast with Hindu nationalist roots

India set to elect President from Dalit cast with Hindu nationalist roots

New Delhi: India´s next president will emerge from the Dalit caste -- a community so marginalised they were once known as "untouchables" -- with the victory of the ruling party candidate set to strengthen Prime Minister Narendra Modi´s grip on power.

Ram Nath Kovind, 71, is hot favourite to be elected Monday by national and state lawmakers to become titular head-of-state as the candidate of Modi´s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It will be only the second time, after President K.R Narayanan, who served from 1997 to 2002, that a member of the downtrodden caste has assumed the post.

The result will be announced Thursday. And for Modi, with one eye on re-election in 2019, it will send an important message to a key, long disdained electoral group.

Dalits, who number around 200 million, are among the poorest communities in India and have traditionally been relegated to activities on the margins of society.

Despite legal protection, discrimination is rife and Dalits are routinely denied access to education and other opportunities for advancement.

Analysts say Modi can win political capital by helping BJP politician Kovind -- a former Supreme Court lawyer and ex-governor of the eastern state of Bihar -- to win the contest against opposition nominee Meira Kumar, also a Dalit.

Modi has used Twitter to hail the rise of Kovind, the son of a farmer, from "a humble background".

Kumar, the daughter of freedom fighter Babu Jagjivan Ram, was a diplomat before entering politics in 1985 and became India´s first woman speaker in 2009, but the electoral college numbers are heavily tilted against her.

Her nomination, which followed Kovind´s, was seen by many as the opposition´s attempt to counter Modi´s move to woo Dalits.

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