"Islam and Christianity are alien" to India, NDAs Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind said seven years ago when he was just appointed a BJP spokesperson.
Kovind, then a little-known BJP leader, addressed a press conference at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on March 26, 2010, and sought that the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission, which had recommended inclusion of Muslim and Christian converts among the Scheduled Castes, be "scrapped" and called the move "unconstitutional".
Asked then by an IANS correspondent as to how Sikh Dalits could enjoy the quota privilege in the same category, he responded: "Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation."
A Supreme Court ruling on March 25 that year had upheld the Andhra Pradesh government's decision to allow four per cent job quota for backward Muslims.
The proposed reservation for backward Muslims was a burning issue then as the National Commission on Religious and Linguistic Minorities, headed by Justice Misra, former Chief Justice of India, had in a report recommended that backward Muslim and Christian converts should be accorded Scheduled Castes status and given a quota.
Kovind, an RSS loyalist who worked for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, said the Misra Committee recommendations were not possible to implement.
"Including Muslims and Christians in the Scheduled Castes category will be unconstitutional," the lawyer-turned-politician said.
Dalit quota privilege in the country is presently only for Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. And the then Congress-led government had flirted with the idea of extending the reservation to Dalit Christians and Muslims under the Scheduled Castes category. But this triggered a vociferous opposition from the BJP.
Kovind also did not agree that converted Dalit Christians and Muslims were educationally backward and said it was a "very well known" fact that they get better education in convent schools.
"The educational level of Scheduled Castes children remains much lower than that of convert Muslims. The children of converts will grab a major share of reservation in government jobs. They would become eligible to contest elections on seats reserved for Scheduled Castes. This would encourage conversion and fatally destroy the fabric of the Indian society," he said.
"Their special interest is not in getting reservations in government jobs, they want Scheduled Castes category reservation to contest elections from village panchayats to the Lok Sabha. As they know, they cannot be eligible to contest elections on reserved seats under backward class reservation," he said.
The BJP government has already made its mind obvious about the Misra panel report with Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot saying if its recommendations were implemented, it would "weaken the Hindu religion".
"Granting Scheduled Castes status to those belonging to minority communities will encourage conversion and weaken the Hindu religion. There is also no such provision in the Constitution," Gehlot said.
Kovind, a two-term member of the Rajya Sabha, was on Monday named by BJP President Amit Shah as the NDA candidate to become the 14th President of India. He served as the chief of the BJP's Scheduled Castes Morcha from 1998 to 2002.
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at email@example.com)