By Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*
As expected, BJP-led NDA’s nominee Droupadi Murmu emerged victorious in the Presidential election. Droupadi Murmu (president-elect) will succeed Ram Nath Kovind to become the 15th president of India. She is the first tribal leader and second woman to hold the top constitutional post in the country. She will be the first President to be born after independence and is the youngest to occupy the top post too.
But what is important for Odias is that she is the first person from Odisha to become the first citizen of the nation. Being an Odia, I obviously congratulate her.
Murmu, 64, won by an overwhelming margin against Sinha after receiving over 64 percent of valid votes. She got 6,76,803 votes (64 percent) against Sinha’s 3,80,177 votes (36 percent). Around 16 MPs have cross-voted in favour of Murmu. 137 MLAs from Odisha voted for Murmu while 9 were against. However, 53 votes becoming invalid shows the poor quality of some legislators.
Born on June 20, 1958, in a poor tribal family in village Baidaposi of Mayurbhanj, a backward district in Odisha, Droupadi Murmu completed her studies despite challenging circumstances. She is from a humble background and hails from the Santhal community. She taught at Shri Aurobindo Integral Education Centre, Rairangpur. She pursued BA at Ramadevi Women’s College Bhubaneswar. She is an excellent orator in Santhali and Odia language. She served as a junior assistant in Irrigation and Power Department between 1979 and 1983 before joining politics.
The journey of Droupadi Murmu from remote Rairangpur of Mayurbhanj to Raisina Hill, is an example of overcoming all struggles and hardships with determination and dedication. Undoubtedly, she has suffered a lot in her life while advancing her political career. The low-profile Murmu, believed to be deeply spiritual, is a keen practitioner of the meditation techniques of the Brahma Kumaris, a movement she embraced after she lost her husband, two sons, mother, and brother in just six years between 2009-2015.
Her political career is entirely self-made, safely clear of any dynastic taint, and all the more remarkable. She is a seasoned politician from Odisha coupled with an extensive background. She joined BJP in January 1997. She started her political career as Rairangpur NAC vice-chairman. She was a member of the Odisha Legislative Assembly from Rairangpur between 2000 and 2004. As a minister, she held portfolios of Transport and Commerce, Animal Husbandry, and Fisheries. She again served as MLA in the Odisha assembly from 2004 to 2009 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in coalition with the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha. She had contested the 2014 assembly election from Rairangpur, but lost to the BJD candidate.
In 2007, the Odisha assembly honoured her with the ‘Nilakantha Award’ for best MLA. She had earned her place in the senior ranks of the BJP’s state unit by virtue of her capabilities rather than trading on her tribal identity or her gender, overcoming seral personal tragedies. She has held several organizational posts in BJP and was vice- president of state ST Morcha in 1997. She was a national executive member of BJP’s ST Morcha from 2013 to 2015 and served as BJP district chief of Mayurbhanj (West) in 2010 and 2013.
Her tenure as the Governor of Jharkhand (May 18, 2015- July 12 ,3021) for more than 6 years was not only non-controversial but also memorable. She also holds the record of being the first tribal woman Governor in the country.
But what is reprehensible is that the ruling BJP is playing identity politics and propagating the matter in such a way to derive maximum political mileage since her nomination. The BJP is celebrating her victory in such a way that one will feel that her elevation to the post of president will eradicate all economic ills such as poverty, hunger, starvation, unemployment, and inequality. No youth will remain jobless and the nation will see only growth and prosperity.
BJP is also trying to evoke the emotion of people not only to camouflage its failures but also to dispel the anger, fury, and discontentment of people over some anti-people policies of the government.
Undoubtedly, she has all credentials to adore the post of president but her selection for the top post can also be a part of the BJP’s political strategy to make inroads into the tribal society, which has been a bastion of Congress so far. The BJP by fielding her is also eyeing crucial votes of the ST community in upcoming assembly elections in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh, which have a significant tribal population, besides the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP is failing to make any dent in Odisha in face of Naveen’s popularity. By nominating her, the BJP is also seeking to get its foothold in Odisha’s tribal-dominated belt, which it has been eyeing ever since it snapped ties with BJD in 2009. Odisha goes to the polls along with the 2024 general elections and so does Andhra Pradesh, where there is a significant tribal population.
Certainly, her background makes her worthy of this coveted post but telling her frequently that she belongs to Odisha or Scheduled Tribes undermines her worthiness. People are made to believe that it is not her efficiency, but rather her tribal background that helped her to reach the top post,
While she is quite competent, her opponent Yashwant Sinha was equally competent and there will be around a large number of leaders who are equally worthy of adoring Rashtrapati Bhawan. But only one can be the first citizen of the second most populous country.
Further, when one gets civil services, he/she gets it because of efficiency, talent, and hard work. But when one becomes Governor, Vice -President, or President, efficiency or hard work does not matter but whom the party having a higher percentage of votes nominated. Hence, it is not talent, or ability but nomination that matters most. By telling this I do not tell that she is not efficient or capable. She can be more capable than others, though, but she has failed to do any tangible thing – even village had no electrification- in her native place while being a minister.
After her victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated “Droupadi Murmu Ji’s life, her early struggles, her rich service, and her exemplary success motivates each and every Indian. She has emerged as a ray of hope for our citizens, especially the poor, marginalized, and downtrodden.
MoS Tribal Affairs Renuka Singh says “Modi hai toh mumkin hai’, so this dream has become a reality because of PM Modi Ji. I congratulate & wish the best to Droupadi Murmu and hope the country flourishes in her tenure”.
Piyush Goyal says,” This new history will speed up India’s progress, in political, social, economic and all other aspects. The whole country has celebrated her win today. PM Modi has delivered a message which will be remembered for years to come. Draupadi Murmu will rewrite history:”
External Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar says,” Today is a remarkable day for Indian democracy. Smt Droupadi Murmu’s election as the 15th President is a statement of an authentic and inclusive India. It will serve as an inspiration to millions of our citizens. New India is not just an aspiration; it is becoming a reality”
The messages from ministers reveal that it is PM Modi who has selected her but not the BJP party. Do we derive the conclusion that in our democracy, the president is elected or nominated by the Prime Minister? Attributing her elevation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision does not hold our democracy in good taste.
Further, how her elevation will speed up India’s progress, in political, social, economic, and all other aspects and make a new India a reality. It means her predecessors failed in some areas where she can contribute. How her elevation is linked with the new India or aspirations of the people. Such types of publicity blitzkrieg and high-sounding statements by BJP leaders show how they are eager to derive political dividends out of her elevation.
President or vice president or governor (in states) are ornamental posts. Though, they have to act as “custodians of the Constitution” but play a little role in development or decision making. Basically, they favour the decisions of the ruling parties.
Our constitutional provision requires a president and it is good news that a lady belonging to Odisha and Scheduled Tribes has been elevated. But linking her elevation to development, prosperity, and New India is unrealistic and unwarranted.
One must know that many good people do not join politics because money and muscle power play a dominant role and one loses own independence and has to act and speak in line with party decisions. The process through which one ascends to a higher position has to abide by the system that has helped to reach that level. Sometimes a pro-people leader becomes pro-rich, pro-corporate, or anti-people after being elected as the people’s representative because he/she has to adhere to her party’s decision and who has helped directly and indirectly.
Droupadi Murmu is undoubtedly a great personality and person of sacrifice, but the party behind her elevation believes in pro-rich, pro-corporate or anti-people, anti-public sector policies coupled with the “poisonous politics of polarisation”. The recent imposition of GST on food items is a glaring example. The question is how far she can go against the wrong decision of the party which is behind her successful journey to Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Further, power and position have no gender, no caste, and no religion. Powerful people always struggle to retain their position and have little contribution to vulnerable sections of society. Just electing a President Vice-President or Prime Minister from any marginalized community /tribe does not elevate the living standards of that community nor the poor and downtrodden in our exploitative and repressive system.
Before Droupadi Murmu, India had 14 presidents and three acting Presidents such as Basappa Danappa Jatti, Mohammad Hidayatullah, V. V. Giri. V V Giri who had played both roles acting President and president. Three persons such as Zakir Husain (1 year, 355 days), Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (2 years, 171 days), A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (5 years), were president while Mohammad Hidayatullah was acting president for 35 days. They all were from the Muslim community.
Despite India getting 4 presidents from Muslim Community, there is no substantial development in their living standards. What is disconcerting is that despite Muslim leaders contributing enormously to our freedom struggle, hatred is created against Muslim communities deliberately and they are not accepted as Indians by some reactionary and communal forces. The ruling class maintain stoic silence too.
Similarly, Pratibha Patil ( 5 years) was chosen to honour the sentiments of women. But has she been able to contribute anything extra to the upliftment of women? Similarly, K. R. Narayanan (5 years) was the first person from the Dalit community to hold the post of vice president and president. Ram Nath Kovind (who will complete 5 years) is the second person from the Dalit community to hold the post of President.
But had India witnessed any tangible development of the Dalit community during their tenures? So, how will one expect that the living standards of Scheduled Tribes and women will see enormous improvement during the presidency of Droupadi Murmu?
Further, just representation in top posts from any community does not portray that the same community is flourishing and poor, and vulnerable sections of society can aspire to hold similar positions. When the nation celebrates her victory as tribal leader, Forest Conservation Amendment Bill encroaches on Gram Sabha, Tribal Rights.
The new rules, however, are silent on the condition of consent from Gram Sabha and settlement of rights from the list of compliances which is currently needed to get any approval from the state government. There are concerns that this could facilitate the diversion of forest land into the industry without settling the rights of forest dwellers- most of them are tribals. But can Droupadi Murmu be assertive and rewrite history by opposing this?
Murmu’s election as head of the Indian state has nothing to do with the values of social inclusiveness that undergird the Constitution. Her elevation to Rashtrapati Bhavan is just a tokenism and does not point to the opportunity open to any marginalized community. This cannot be generalized and the same types of opportunities cannot be available to the country’s most disenfranchised communities as happened in the case of Droupadi Murmu. Nobody can contest an election without money and muscle power with some exception
The average assets of Lok Sabha MP is nearly Rs 20 crore while that of Rajya Sabha is Rs 55 crore. Around 43 percent of Lok Sabha MP have a criminal background. Hence, despite few people from humble, poor, or lower background reaching top positions does not mean the system/governance is pro-poor and pro-people as publicized by the ruling class. Droupadi Murmu cannot be assertive and rewrite history but can be a noble personality.
Let us celebrate, and be happy with the election of Droupadi Murmu as President, but avert the ruling party to derive political mileage and create the illusion of development while hiding failures. When people will fight to change exploitative and repressive systems, then there will be all-around progress and development.
The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English