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India readies itself to welcome a tribal President

Politics 2022-06-25, 11:20pm


Indian Presidenital nominee Draupadi Murmu with PM Narendra Modi.

by Nava Thakuria

If one believes in the simple mathematical calculation and minimum political honesty by public representatives in the Indian Parliament and State legislative assemblies, the largest democracy on Earth is waiting for a lady tribal President in New Delhi. As Draupadi Murmu, a simple Janjati family woman-turned a teacher-turned politician, gets the recommendation from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government for the  Presidential elections scheduled for 18 July next, her victory becomes almost certain.

Nava Thakuria

Hailing from Mayurbhanj locality of Odisha, who taught at the Shri Aurobindo Integral Education Centre, the NDA’s Presidential candidate earlier served Jharkhand as its Governor and her own State as a minister. After arriving in New Delhi, Murmu has filed her nomination paper in presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh, BJP national president JP Nadda,  UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma among others. Her main opponent will be a seasoned politician, who had lately shifted his loyalty from the saffron party. Yashwant Sinha, a former Union minister, has been declared as the joint opposition candidate.

The Election Commission of India recently announced the schedule of Presidential elections as the five-year tenure of President Ram Nath Kovind comes to end on 24 July 2022. Nominations (for 18 July polling) are being received till 29 June and the poll-result will be available on 21 July. For records, any citizen of India can become the country’s President after fulfilling a few conditions. The aspirant must be at least 35 years old and s/he has the qualification to be elected as a member of Lok Sabha. On submitting the nomination, the aspirant needs 50 recognised proposers and 50 seconders.

Unlike other democratic nations, the Indians do not elect their President directly. The Head of the Republic is voted by the people’s representatives (meaning the Parliamentarians and Legislators) who form an Electoral College. It includes 543 members of Lok Sabha (the lower house of Parliament), 233 members in Rajya Sabha (the upper house) and 4,033 members of legislative assemblies across the vast country. 

The ruling BJP has 92 Rajya Sabha members (including four nominated MPs, who cannot vote) and 301 Lok Sabha MPs, which is more than the half of combined strength of both the houses. The saffron party also enjoys support from its alles like Janata Dal-United, Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party, Apna Dal, Asom Gana Parishad, Mizo National Front, National People’s Party, and the like.  As the BJP retains power in 18 States, it enjoys the support of an impressive number of (along with the political allies) legislators too.

Meanwhile, in Murmu’s home State, the Biju Janata Dal government chief  Naveen Patnaik urged all political parties of  Odisha to support her (even though they are not NDA allies). Patnaik, who is in power for over two decades, also appealed to the opposition parties to withdraw their candidate (Yashwant Sinha). Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy indicates his party YSRCP may support Murmu. Others which may join the league comprise BSP (Uttar Pradesh), TRS (Telangana), AAP (Delhi & Punjab), JMM (Jharkhand), AIADMK (Tamil Nadu), among others.

For the BJP, there were a number of choices for the Presidential polls including the incumbent vice-President Venkaiah Naidu and a few reputed Governors of different States. But the party, which has been facing public angers (often turned violent) for the Prophet Muhammad controversy, Agniveer defece policy, other burning issues, silently picked up an efficent and honest Santhal political personality to replace a Dalit (Kovind who is the second Dalit President of India after KR  Narayanan).

The struggling life of Murmu would also impress anyone who looks through her days from a poor tribal family to complete her studies at Bhubaneswar Ramadevi Women’s College against all odds. Born on 20 June 1958, Murmu started her career as a teacher before joining Odisha politics. She was elected to the State legislative assembly twice as a BJP member. Murmu served various portfolios as a minister of the State government in Bhubaneswar. Incidentally she became the first woman Governor of Jharkhand (2015 to 2021).

Her first reaction over the development was a big surprise. ‘I am surprised, I was not able to believe it,’ said Murmu while speaking to journalists and added that she would work with the constitutional guidelines if elected to the coveted post. PM Modi in an initial tweet commented that Murmu has a rich administrative experience and had an outstanding gubernatorial tenure. Meanwhile, the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (ABVKA), backed by BJP’s influential ideologue Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, termed   Murmu’s candidature as a historic moment for 120 million Janajati people of India.

“Janajatis are an integral constituent of tradition and inheritors of an esteemed culture of the Indian nation. However they have been overlooked and disregarded for many centuries,” said Ramchandra Kharadi, president of ABVKA, which is identified as India’s largest tribal non-government welfare organisation. He asserted that a historical decision has been made to nominate a Santhali Janajati lady as the Presidential candidate when the India is celebrating the glorious 75th years of its independence.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Guwahati capital of Assam, India.)