Congress-led opposition candidate Meira Kumar on Tuesday said the presidential election is being fought on the basis of ideology and not caste and expressed pain at only the caste of her and ruling NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind being discussed, but not their achievements and qualities.In her first press conference after being nominated the opposition candidate, Meira Kumar, a Dalit, lamented that for the first time caste was being made an issue in the election to the country's top constitutional post."Why should caste be an issue in the Presidential election?" the former Lok Sabha Speaker wondered, a day before she files her nomination papers. "This election is being fought on the basis of ideology, and not caste. Would you want the election for the highest post to be fought on the basis of caste? The prestige of the post would end the day we think in this manner. We will fight on the basis of ideology," said Kumar.
Kumar announced she will start her election campaign from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad on June 30. "You get a lot of strength when you go there (Sabarmati Ashram). That's why I am going there," said Kumar.She will also visit all states and meet the MPs and MLAs there, who are part of the electoral college.Kumar, daughter of former Deputy Prime Minister and prominent Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram, reiterated that she espouses the values of social justice, freedom of speech, inclusiveness and abolition of caste system and would fight to uphold these."Many times in history, two high caste leaders have competed for the post of the President but there havn't been any discussions on their caste. This time, when two Dalits are competing against each other, there is a lot of noise about it everywhere. I feel that caste should be buried in the deepest part of the earth and completely forgotten. Our society should progress," she said on being asked about two Dalits leaders being fielded for the top constitutional post.
"This reflects the true picture and truth of the society. I can make out clearly how the society thinks in 2017. The achievements and qualities of the candidates were not discussed, but their caste was. "Whatever is happening is very painful. This reflects the mindset of the society," said Kumar, a former IFS officer and five-time Lok Sabha MP. On recent cases of violence against Dalits, Kumar said: "We should hang our heads in shame even if there is one incident of violence against Dalits or weaker sections. This is not just my fight. This is everyone's struggle."Asked about caste bias within opposition parties with BSP Chief Mayawati saying she would support only if a popular Dalit candidate was chosen, Kumar said: "This is the election to the highest position in the land. Although the process of election is political, the post itself is apolitical.""For this post, there should be no one-upmanship of caste. I don't think the caste identification should play a role," she added."That is why it has become imperative that I should appeal to the voice of consicence," Kumar said on being asked if appealing to the collegium seeking their support was relevant.On NDA leaders including M. Venkaiah Naidu saying there was no need to bring ideology in the contest, Kumar said: "You mean to say that ideology will not have a role in the election of the highest post? How can there be an election free from ideology which is for the post of the President.
""Democratic values, social justice, transparency, freedom of speech, inclusiveness, destruction of caste system, end of poverty... these are part of the ideology which is close to my heart. For this very reason, on the plank of this ideology I will compete," Meira Kumar added. Expressing her gratitude to the 17 political parties for selecting her as their presidential candidate, Kumar said she has requested all the members of the Electoral College to support her candidature in a letter she wrote two days back. Asked about External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's tweet targeting her, Kumar said: "On the last day as Lok Sabha Speaker, leaders from every political party delivered their speeches. Everybody, without any bias, both from opposition and the treasury benches, appreciated my work. Nobody made allegations that my style of functioning was biased."About allegations against her of not paying rent of her house, She said: "These are baseless and have been done to tarnish my image."Asked if the election was a losing battle for her and that she has been made a scapegoat, Kumar said: "Why are you calling it a losing battle, do you know for sure? I am fighting and might as well fight."Asked if she would meet NDA leaders and its allies like the Shiv Sena, Kumar said: "I'll take a decision on this at the appropriate time.""I have written to everyone, every member of the Electoral College and sought their support," she added.