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How Ram Nath Kovind Emerged From the Shadows to Become NDA's Prez Pick

BJP's presidential candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, at the International Yoga Day event in New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)

BJP's presidential candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, at the International Yoga Day event in New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)

For someone who joined the BJP in 1991- when Dr M M Joshi was the national president - Kovind beat everyone, from full timers to high profile cabinet ministers, to emerge the NDA choice in the final lap.

New Delhi: Within a short span of a decade, it has been a very long journey from one flank of the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the opposite for Ram Nath Kovind. From 53, South Avenue, when he was an ordinary Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh, to 144 North Avenue, the first floor residence allocated to him as the Governor of Bihar.

In the interim, very few people, not even his closest relatives, knew that one day Kovind would be occupying the majestic viceregal lodge in mauve and pink Jodhpur sandstone straddling the Raisina Hill.

Nearly a week before his nomination by the BJP as NDA’s Presidential nominee, Kovind’s wife Savita travelled to Delhi to get treated for a minor ophthalmic ailment. Sources in the family say that the next first lady - if BJP nominee goes on to win the poll - did have an inkling that some major announcement regarding her spouse was in the offing.

News channels broke the story at 2pm on Monday. Flooded with calls, Kovind’s phone thereafter was continuously busy. It was difficult to reach him and hear from the man of the hour for a very long time.

Savita Kovind since then has met a select, yet a steady stream of visitors at the North Avenue accommodation. To a small group of journalists that she called in this Tuesday, she offered sweets, but spoke very little.

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A few miles east of the President’s House, at the Congress Headquarters on Akbar Road, Pawan Gupta waits for a senior party leader who is busy talking to UPA allies seeking consensus of a joint opposition candidate against Kovind. Gupta is the local Congress leader from Kanpur who contested the last Mayoral elections on the party ticket.

Gupta claims Kovind, who also hails from Kanpur, was in the city less than a month back to attend a function organised by the Lion’s Club. “We shared dais, but I left a bit early. Never did I realize that I am meeting the future president of India,” he said.

But such is politics, and such is life. For someone who joined the BJP in 1991- when Dr M M Joshi was the national president- Kovind beat everyone, from full timers to high profile cabinet ministers, to emerge the NDA choice in the final lap.

“He was inducted in the party by Kalyan Singh, but very few people know that all these years, he has been very close to Kalraj Mishra,” said a state BJP leader.

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During NDA-1, Kovind got two terms to the Rajya Sabha. He also headed the party Schedule Caste morcha.

By the time his second term as an MP ended, UPA had elbowed BJP out of power at the Centre. BSP and SP had replaced BJP from its preeminent position in the UP polity. With a few MLAs in the assembly, party could send only a select few to the upper house from the state.

Kovind could never really manage another RS nomination after 2006.

He, however, was accommodated as a national spokesperson during Rajnath Singh’s tenure as BJP president. In all the three years that he was in Delhi, he held less than half a dozen press conferences - including one on Ranganath Mishra Commission report on religious and linguistic minorities.

“In one of the pressers he faced a very hostile media. The rapport somehow never really developed between him as the spokesperson and the Delhi media,” says a senior journalist who had covered the part for more than a decade.

Later Kovind was to shift base to Lucknow to try his luck in state politics. When Lakshmikant Bajpai was appointed UP BJP president, Kovind was inducted in the state unit as an office bearer.

The idea was to prepare for the 2014 general elections. Kovind zeroed in on Jalaun Lok Sabha seat in Bundelkhand, worked on the constituency for over a year, but the party denied him an LS ticket.

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With a clear victory under it’s the belt in May that year, BJP went about making key appointments - especially to constitutional positions. From UP, Kalyan Singh and Kesari Nath Tripathi were chosen for gubernatorial assignments.

“One was an OBC leader, the other a Brahmin. We wanted to nominate a Dalit as well,” says a BJP leader from UP. As most of top BJP leaders in UP had won elections, the choice narrowed down to the remaining few.

Kovind, thus got a much needed break in politics after a long hiatus. He was sworn in as the governor of Bihar on August 8, 2015.

The rest is history.