sulabh swatchh bharat

Wednesday, 14-November-2018

First Among Equals 

The story of Ram Nath Kovind’s journey from Paraukh village to Rashtrapati Bhawan is an inspiration

Paraukh is a small nondescript village in Kanpur Dehat. No one had heard of the village until last month. But, July has changed it all. After all, a son of the soil, Ram Nath Kovind, has been elected 14th President of India. It is the victory of Indian democracy which has once again proved its strength by promoting a low profile Dalit lawyer, to the highest office in the country. After he became a Rajya Sabha MP in 1994, Kovind used his funds to develop his ancestral village by getting roads, high schools for girls, a State Bank of India branch and ensured electricity meters were installed in all homes. He even donated hs ancestral house to run a community centre. 

He is the second Dalit to enter the Rashtrapati Bhavan after KR Narayanan. But, there is world of difference between the two. While Narayanan belonged to the affluent class among Dalits as before entering politics, he was a Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer who had served in Indian embassies in many countries. Kovind on the other hand, hailed from a dusty village, used to cycle 19-20 kms a day to study in Kanpur, was a very low key leader. In first remarks after the triumph, 71-year-old Kovind, former Bihar Governor, recalled his ‘kutcha’ home of mud walls in Paraukh village where “the thatched roof was not be able to stop water from dripping inside during the rain” and “we all brothers and sisters would huddle around a wall, waiting for the rain to stop”.

“There would be so many Ram Nath Kovinds in the country today, getting drenched in the rain, doing farm work, labour and sweating it out so that they can get their evening meals. I want to tell them that this Ram Nath Kovind of Paraukh village is going to Rashtrapati Bhavan as their representative,” the President-elect said. “I never aspired to be the President. My win is a message to those discharging their duties with integrity. My election as the President is an evidence of the greatness of Indian democracy,” he said. “I am feeling emotional.”  Expressing happiness over the “extensive support” for Kovind in the electoral college, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Congratulations to Shri Ram Nath Kovind Ji on being elected the President of India! Best wishes for a fruitful & inspiring tenure.”

When they met soon after, Modi offered Kovind a sweet and a stole while BJP president Amit Shah looked on. Shah said Kovind’s elections was a “victory for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised and their aspirations”. He is a simpleton who enjoys his earthiness. He doesn’t believe in showing off. Arrogance is one vice which hasn’t touched the new President at all. He eats simple food and loves to remain so low key that even his children’s friends didn’t know that their’s friend’s father was a Member of Parliament (MP) who later on went to become Governor of Bihar and then President of India. His daughter Swati was an air hostess with Air India for a while. But, none of her colleagues knew that she was Kovind’s daughter because she never used her caste identity or her surname. They did not suspect anything special when she applied for privilege leave after Kovind filed his nomination for Presidential election. They came to know only couple of days before the actual announcement that one of their colleagues was going to change her address. She along with her father will now live in Rashtrapati Bhawan.

After the announcement of the result, Swati said, she was proud of her father’s human qualities -- as a loving parent and a caring person. “It is a very proud moment for us. The country is celebrating. He has been connected with people through social work. He is a loving father and a very caring person’’ “When he had become the governor of Bihar, we used to think this was the highest post, we didn’t think beyond that. But, now it feels different as he will assume the highest office of the country. But, there is no change in his personality. He is a down-to-earth person and is still the same person he was while holding the post of governor,” a beaming Swati said. Kovind’s better half, Savita too is equally unassuming. She has been taking care of her husband’s personal chores despite domestic responsibilities. “Never thought he would ever become President of India. But he has risen by dint of his hard work and honesty,” Savita said soon after her husband Ram Nath Kovind was elected as the country’s next president. 

His childhood friends in his ancestral village Paraukh, in Kanpur Dehat, too 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 text books. We used to tease him a lot for being bookworm but he would just smile and keep concentrating on books,” pointed 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 recognized his talent and sent him for higher studies,” he says.

It is celebration time in Paraukh village. A podium next to his ancestral house in Paraukh, where he used to study, has become a revered place. People sat on it with harmonium and dholak and sang their childhood melodies for hours to celebrate the occasion. “Villagers have decided to continue holding prayers on this podium till he is elected to the highest office in the country,” said a 72-year-old childhood friend of Kovind.  No one had visited Paraukh village when Kovind was made Governor of Bihar in 2015. But suddenly the village is shot into limelight. Mediapersons, TV Channels and their OB vans make a beeline in the village to capture a glimpse of this otherwise non-descript village from where a Dalit is likely to be ensconced on country’s top post.

“For us, it was like going down memory lane showing mediapersons after six decades to capture a glimpse of where Kovindji used to study, sleep and eat food or share anecdotes related to his childhood days,” pointed Jaswant Singh. “Things have changed in his village also but it still carries many of his sweet remembrance which were fondly recalled when he was elevated as Bihar Governor,” said Virendra Singh. Born on October 1, 1945 in Derapur village Jhinjhak bloc in Kanpur Dehat, 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 bloc in Kanpur Dehat. His father Maikulal Kovind was a priest in a temple in his native village. He eked out a living for his family of nine children by running a small grocery store and he learnt his first lessons under a peepal tree. His family belongs to the community of Koris, who have traditionally been weavers. They owned no land.

Kovind was quite, suave and meritorious since childhood. His mother died when he was only five-year-old. His elder sister late Gomti Devi raised and shaped his future. His father sold off his land in village to arrange money for his higher studies. Since there was no light in the village, he would confine himself in a dingy store room to study under lamps. Kovind travelled about 8 kms daily to Payagpur Dilwal to pass out Class VIII. Seeing his passion for studies, his father send him to Kanpur along with his sister. One of his brother Ram Swarup also shifted to Kanpur to support Kovind. His father Maiku Lal was a respected person in the village and was a member of the village panchayat. Kovind always accompanied him in panchayat meetings and there he decided to take up law and politics to help dalits, poor and downtrodden get justice and brought to mainstream of the society.

He took admission in BSND Shiksha Niketan, Kanpur from where he passed out Class XII. He did his Graduation from DAV College, Kanpur and obtained law degree from the Kanpur University.  “He worked as steno in court room to pay up his fees for the law degree,” recalls his brother Ram Swarup. Kovind would not eat food till his sister served him. Once his sister went out, he did not touch food till she returned and cajoled him. “My mother used to share that after that incident she had made it a point to be at home during my maternal uncle’s lunch and dinner time,” recalls his nephew Shyam Babu. Kovind’s nephew claimed his mother would save money to buy his books and pay up his fees. Kovind would often share with his friends that whatever he is today it was because of his sister who raised him like mother.

After the death of his father, he stayed away from his native place. His brothers also settled elsewhere. “He does not have much connection left with his native village anymore except for few occasional visits,” points his another childhood friend Jaswant Singh, who studied with him till Class V in village school. He shifted to Delhi in 1971 and started practicing at the Delhi High Court and later at Supreme Court. He also tried his hands at Civil services. After failing twice, he cracked the exam in third attempt in 1975 but did not join as he was selected for the allied services. He got married in 1974 with Savita. He had a son and a daughter. His son Prashant is a businessman while daughter Shweta works in an Airlines. Kovind has a mini HIG house in Kanpur’s Dayanand Maharishi Dayanad Vihar Colony but  no one lives there since he and his family shifted to Delhi in 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. He unsuccessfully contested Lok Sabha polls twice on BJP ticket from Ghatampur and Bhognipur in 1990 and 2007 respectively. “Though entire village supported him but it was not sufficient to break the caste politics to ensure his victory,” pointed Virendra Singh. Later, he was elected to Rajya Sabha twice from Uttar Pradesh in 1994 and 2000 till 2006. He was perhaps the only BJP Spokesperson who never showed up in TV debates. He was made the Bihar Governor in 2015. Kovind was also made President of the BJP SC/St Morcha. In 2002, he represented India in United Nations to address the General Assembly.

But suddenly this dalit ideologue came out of blue to upset the opposition’s presidential poll calculations. Kovind’s caste, his social, political, and constitutional understanding and his farming and humble background and non-controversial image stumped the opposition and critics of Modi and Shah. Kovind has been an absolutely non-controversial person. He always kept himself away from the limelight yet working studiously for the party organisation or for the responsibility assigned to him by the party.  Kovind has been so low-key that most people didn’t recognise him before being selected as Presidential candidate.