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India’s ruling party picks Dalit as presidential candidate

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling party on Monday named a lawyer from the lowest Dalit caste as its candidate for president, a move seen as an attempt to reach out to the marginalised community.

Ram Nath Kovind, 71, is likely to take up the largely ceremonial post when the term of Pranab Mukherjee ends next month, becoming the second Dalit to be India’s head of state.

The president is voted in by an electoral college comprised of federal and state lawmakers, and the ruling ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is thought to have the support it needs to push its candidate through.

“Ram Nath Kovind has always fought for the betterment of the Dalits and other backward castes,” BJP chief Amit Shah said at a press conference to announce the party’s candidate.

“The BJP … hopes that a person born in a poor family of low-caste Dalit community will be a consensus candidate for the president’s post.”

Kovind’s nomination follows huge protests last year by members of the historically marginalised Dalit community, who make up around 17 percent of India’s population.

The protests broke out after four young Dalits were stripped and publicly flogged after being falsely accused of killing a cow, an animal Hindus consider sacred.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Press), 2017

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