Fielding Draupadi Murmu: A political masterstroke

A tribal woman to become President for the first time in history  

The presidential poll in India is scheduled for July 18

By Lalit Garg

Draupadi Murmu is the presidential candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the fifteenth presidential election in India. Given the comfortable majority of NDA in the parliament, she would be the first tribal to reach the highest constitutional post and the second woman President of the Republic of India.

It is a masterstroke on part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both politically and socially. Possibly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw a reflection of himself in her – she does not come from a political background, has no lineage, and had a lifetime of personal struggle and sacrifice.

Following the announcement of Murmu’s name as the NDA presidential candidate, PM Modi tweeted, “Smt. Draupadi Murmu Ji has devoted her life to serving society and empowering the poor, the downtrodden as well as the marginalized. She has rich administrative experience and had an outstanding gubernatorial tenure. I am confident she will be a great President of our nation.”

The opposition parties have announced former Union minister Yashwant Sinha as its joint candidate for the post. But with NDA fielding a tribal candidate, Biju Janata Dal ruling in her home state Odisha and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) of Shibu Soren have decided to support Murmu. “It’s a matter of pride for 104 crore Odisha people. We should thank our honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Parliamentary Board of BJP for picking up Draupadi as the presidential candidate,” said BJP MP Aparajita Sarangi.

The presidential elections will take place as the term of President Ram Nath Kovind will end on July 24 this year. After the election, the new President will take oath on July 25.

Murmu, known to be a knowledgeable and soft-spoken politician hailing from Odisha, is a former Governor of Jharkhand. She comes from a tribal community and her becoming the first citizen of India would bring new strength to the democracy of India. Her presence as the constitutional head of the country will bring renewed self-assurance for every Indian, especially women, and the tribal. It would also be no surprise, in my view, that Draupadi Murmu may emerge as the greatest female voice of the tribal and the oppressed in the contemporary world.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee had chosen APJ Abdul Kalam to Rashtrapati Bhavan and PM Modi is following his footstep by first sending Ram Nath Kovind to become the first citizen and now Draupadi Murmu, a Scheduled Tribe. It is certainly a healthy and progressive decision.

The credit for presenting Draupadi Murmu as a presidential candidate goes to PM Modi and BJP President J.P. Nadda. Murmu’s nomination is only sharpening the edge of lower-class politics on which the BJP has been working hard for a long time. The neglect of the tribal community across the country has been in discussion since independence, and PM Modi has been active in the interest and welfare of the tribal, affecting about 11 percent of the total electorate and about 25 percent of the total voter turnout.

BJP leadership, in particular, comprising of PM Modi, Amit Shah, and Nadda is giving special attention to the tribal community so that it can bring itself out of the limited identity of the urban party. Having a tribal woman in Rashtrapati Bhavan will enhance the image of the BJP among the tribal community, whose direct impact could be seen in states like West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Gujarat. BJP had been struggling hard in a few of these states due to the presence of very powerful regional parties like Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, BJD in Odisha, and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Jharkhand. With Draupadi Murmu in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, BJP will not only be able to ease its fight against these regional powers but may turn successful in these states.

Given the toxic milieu of communalism and Muslim disenchantment, rumors were rife in Delhi about Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan as a probable candidate for the President but PM Modi, as always, surprised everyone by choosing Murmu.

BJP, earlier considered an “urban party,” is now expanding its footprints in the tribal and Dalits is a sure sign of political maturity and foresightedness. PM Modi himself comes from a backward community and his flare about the backward caste in the run of the Uttar Pradesh election had been well received by those who had never been BJP voters earlier.

It would be wrong to say that the President in India is only an office of symbolic importance. Coming from a Dalit background, former President K.R. Narayanan took a tough stand on the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002. Giani Zail Singh, who came from a backward background, stunned the Rajiv Gandhi government intoxicated with a thumping majority. Incumbent President Ram Nath Kovind also strengthened the democracy of the country with his decisions.

Draupadi Murmu is also expected to display the same determination and make her tenure memorable for the country, free from terror, scams, inflation, and communalism. In which Dalit, tribal and backward classes would get an egalitarian living and fair treatment.

Nothing could be better than Draupadi Murmu being a candidate as President and marching towards getting elected is an inspiration to crores of people with similar backgrounds. Being a candidate from a simple family to the highest office in the country is a testimony to the glory of Indian democracy. Her being President of India will not only give more strength to Indian democracy but will also increase its fame as a democracy where ordinary people have done ‘extraordinary’ things. In her personal life, Murmu has seen much tragedy, having lost her husband Shyam Charan Murmu and two sons.

If elected, 64-year-old Murmu will be the first Indian President from a tribal community, the first Indian President from Odisha, and the first President of India to be born after independence. Besides, she would also become the second woman to hold the highest office in the country. This will be the first time in the history of independent India that the dignity of the office of the President will be increased by placing a tribal woman at the helm.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi)


Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 

Images courtesy of (Image Courtesy: India Today) and Provided

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