On July 18, India elects its next President, the country’s highest executive head. The contest is on, but the winner is known!
Draupadi Murmu, a former teacher of tribal descent, whose native village in Odisha has not seen an electric blub till now, will occupy the post of the President on July 25, a day after the incumbent President Ram Nath Kovind’s term comes to an end.
After choosing a Dalit as a Presidential candidate in the previous election, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance has named an Adivasi woman as its nominee for the 2022 presidential election.
Announcing the decision after a meeting of the BJP Parliamentary Board, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that she had rich administrative experience and an outstanding gubernatorial tenure. “I am confident she will be a great President of our nation and millions of people, especially those who have experienced poverty and faced hardships, derive great strength from the life of Murmu,” he added.
After her victory, former Jharkhand Governor Murmu will become the first Adivasi to become the President of India. It may appear symbolism to some, even optics, but the political significance of an Adivasi woman being the Head of the Republic can’t be underestimated.
In 2017, when Ram Nath Kovind was elected as the President, he was only the second Dalit to reach the post. While Kovind belonged to the Koli community, among the most underprivileged SC subcastes, Murmu is an Adivasi. Murmu has attracted special attention because she belongs to the Santhal community, speakers of an Austro-Asiatic language, identified as a Scheduled Tribe as per Part XVI of the Indian Constitution.
The Santhal rebellion against colonialism was one of the bravest yet largely-unknown chapters in the history of the nation. Puri Jagannath of Odisha, from where Draupadi Murmu comes from, provides the sacred model for the integration of forest-dwelling and nonforest-dwelling communities. That she is the first person from a Scheduled Tribe to be nominated to the highest office of the land is a landmark in the annals of social justice in India.
That today Draupadi Murmu stands against the social stagnation created by Nehruvian system of fragmented identity politics and as the symbol of a united, rejuvenated India, that is Bharat, is immensely poetic and also a majestic statement of India’s inner vitality.
BJP’s choice of Draupadi Murmu for President is an important signalling for India’s historically prideful and underserved tribal communities. PM Modi understands the power of symbolism very well, both in domestic politics and in the country’s external projection. Murmu’s life trajectory is inspirational and underscores the transformative strength of democracy.
According to sources, her name was also making rounds for the President post in the year 2017 – when she was the Governor of Jharkhand.
Murmu’s career in politics spans over two decades. The former Odisha minister is the daughter of late Biranchi Narayan Tudu. She has been the recipient of the ‘Best MLA of the Year’ award by the Odisha Legislative Assembly.
Political observers say that apart from its symbolic significance, Murmu’s choice is Prime Minister Modi’s political masterstroke. It has put parties like the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha and the JMM in Jharkhand in a Catch 22 situation.