Draupadi Murmu : India’s Next President
While marking the first-ever ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas’ or Tribal Pride Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 15 November last year had reached out to tribal people, inaugurating the Birsa Munda museum in Ranchi, Jharkhand, as well as a slew of welfare schemes in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
The PM said that as the country celebrated 75 years of Independence next year, it had been decided to honour the contributions of tribal people. “For this, a historic decision has been taken that from today, every year the country will celebrate 15 November, that is, the birth anniversary of Bhagwan Birsa Munda as ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas,” he stated.
Early this year, Modi launched multiple key initiatives for the welfare of “Janjatiya community” (tribes) at “Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas Mahasammelan” in Madhya Pradesh. He launched the ‘Ration Aapke Gram’ scheme in Madhya Pradesh. He also launched the Madhya Pradesh Sickle Cell Mission. He laid the foundation of 50 Eklavya Model Residential Schools across the country. “For the first time in the country after independence, on such a large scale, the art-culture of the entire country’s tribal society, their contribution to the freedom movement and nation building is being remembered and honored with pride,” the Prime Minister said, adding that as “the country is celebrating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, commemorating 75 years of India’s independence, with freedom struggle, and ideas, achievements, actions and resolve at 75, are the five pillars of the 75 week-long celebrations, it is our duty to bring the inspiring stories of tribal heroes and heroines in the freedom struggle before the country and to introduce them to the new generation. During the period of slavery, there were many struggles against foreign rule including Khasi-Garo movement, Mizo movement, Kol movement, etc.
Little did the political analysts realize that in stating all this, Prime Minister Modi was hinting of doing something really big this year, the golden jubilee year of our independence. I think the Prime Minister had made up his mind last year that India’s new President on the golden jubilee year of independence would be a tribal. So, it is not exactly a typical Modi type decision – going against the dominant trend and throwing up a surprise, and in the process outfoxing all the political adversaries – that Ms Draupadi Murmu from Odisha will be India’s next President. I think that we political analysts failed in reading what was there in the mind of the Prime Minister.
With Modi’s choice of Ms. Murmu, opposition sponsored candidate for the post of President Yashwant Sinha, a person with vast bureaucratic and political experience, which saw him being the country’s finance and external affairs minister and a person who is arguably one of the staunchest supporter turned critic (because Modi did not entrust him with any high positions) of the Prime Minister, now will “also run” for the sake of formality. In fact, the opposition’s calculation of wooing away Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has now boomeranged. On the other hand, it is very much in cards that in Jharkhand, the ruling JMM, one of opposition-alliance’s key constituents, will break ranks and support Ms. Murmu, who is a former Governor of the state under the plea that a tribes-dominated state cannot vote against someone who is going to be the first tribal of the country to occupy the highest constitutional office of the country, situated in Delhi’s Raisina Hills.
Ms. Murmu is also going to be the second woman President , the first one being the late Pratibha Patil. At a time when all over the world , there are demands for woman-empowerment, including political representation, a woman in India being promoted by Prime Minister Modi is a deft political move.
Above all, the choice of Ms. Murmu is Modi’s master stroke as far as the social engineering of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is concerned. Under Modi’s supreme leadership, the party is no longer perceived to be urban-centric and upper caste – dominated. In fact, the BJP today is thriving because of its rapidly expanding rural base, with the support of women, extremely backward castes (EBC), Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
It may be noted that out of the total 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, 47 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. And Modi, arguably the shredewest and the number one visionary politician of India today, knows the importance of wooing them. The BJP under his leadership is precisely doing that. It is not only highlighting the series of empowering and anti-poverty welfare measures that the Modi government has undertaken in the last 10 years in the hitherto considered remote tribal areas of the country but also emphasizing the sense of honour that must run through every tribal of India. No wonder why as a political party the BJP is best connected to the tribal community today. Ms. Draupadi Murmu as the country’s President will make this bond only stronger.
Incidentally, the Presidential election in India takes place the year Modi’s home state Gujarat goes for Assembly polls. When in 2017, the Prime Miniter chose the then Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind , a Dalit leader as the Ptesidential candidate, the Gujarat BJP called him a leader of the Koli community, which is classified under the OBC category in the state, and said that his nomination as the NDA’s Presidential candidate is “very important for Gujarat”. The party sent out pictures of Kovind being felicitated at a Koli community event in the state, and issued a release mentioning that Koli and Thakor communities constitute more than 20 per cent of the state’s population. This year, with the choice of Ms. Murmu as the country’s next president, the BJP can legitimately claim in Gujarat that the tribal community, for whom 27 seats are reserved in the 182-member assembly, is being politically empowered by the Prime Minister. This message will remain equally relevant when Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya, all home to a significant number of tribals, go to polls next year.