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Opposition nominee Meira Kumar faces tall order in Presidential election

In the battle of two Dalit leaders for the President’s post, Opposition nominee and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar is up for a symbolic fight.

india Updated: Jun 22, 2017 23:00 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Meira Kumar,Opposition nominee,Presidential candidate
UPA Presidential candidate Meira Kumar has a tough fight on her hands against NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind.Thursday(Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

“Kripya baith jaiye, shaant ho jaiye (please sit down, be quiet)”: then Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar would say these words softly and mellifluously many a time every day to calm down agitated MPs in the Lok Sabha. Her gentle persuasiveness didn’t always work and an MP from Madhya Pradesh once even requested her not to use ‘shaant’, claiming that it was used for dead people in his state. But Kumar wouldn’t give up her gentle, persuasive style.

Nominated as the presidential candidate by 17 opposition parties on Thursday, she would need to use the same persuasiveness as she embarks on a countrywide campaign to seek support from lawmakers for what already seems to be a lost battle. She would, however, be the face of the opposition’s symbolic, ideological fight against the ruling BJP.

Daughter of former deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram, Kumar, 72, shares many similarities with the NDA’s presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind. Both are Dalits, studied law, were active politicians and describe reading as favourite pastime. Kovind’s was Governor of Bihar, Kumar’s home state, and she entered politics from Bijnor, his state.

Kumar went to prestigious institutions, Dehradun-based Welham Girls School, and then Indraprastha College and Miranda House in Delhi for her Master’s and LLB, before getting into the Indian Foreign Service in 1973. After 15 years in service, the diplomat took a plunge in politics. Kumar got elected to the Lok Sabha five times – the first from Bijnor in 1985 when she defeated Mayawati and Ram Vilas Paswan. She went on to become a Cabinet Minister in Manmohan Singh government before occupying the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post in 2009.

In her long illustrious career, she had her share of controversies, too. She landed in a controversy for occupying a bungalow in Lutyen’s Delhi by getting her father’s erstwhile residence converted into a memorial, even as she occupied another ministerial bungalow. A bill of Rs 1.98 crore due to her was waived off by the UPA government as she was not occupying the bungalow.

Like her father, Kumar too had a troubled relation with the Congress for a while. She quit the party in 2000 and returned two years later. There was no stopping for the five-term parliamentarian after getting re-elected from Sasaram, her father’s constituency, in 2004.

Kumar’s candidature for the president’s post is unlikely to swing the balance in UPA’s favour in the July 17 election, but her presence will make it a closely watched contest between two Dalit leaders. It is going to be battle between Bihar’s former governor and beti (daughter) . .

First Published: Jun 22, 2017 22:49 IST