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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Droupadi Murmu’s nomination: The political message

By proposing a tribal woman for President, BJP gains symbolic political capital in several states where it is looking to expand its presence

New Delhi |
June 23, 2022 8:00:49 am
Before becoming the first tribal woman governor (of Jharkhand), Murmu served as a member of the BJP's national executive and head of the party's ST wing++. (PTI)

Written by Siddharth Raina and Priyadarshi Shrivastava

The anticipation over the declaration of the NDA’s presidential candidate has come to an end with the BJP naming, surprisingly, Droupadi Murmu. A name, which, before being announced as the presidential candidate for the ruling alliance, was on no one’s list.

Who is Droupadi Murmu? A tribal woman born in Mayurbhanj, a remote district in Odisha, she has risen through the ranks. She is seen as an experienced and able administrator having served the community, party and government in various positions. She was recognised as best MLA in 2013 by the Odisha Legislative Assembly.

Before becoming the first tribal woman governor (of Jharkhand), she served as a member of the BJP’s national executive and head of the party’s ST wing++. She began her career as a teacher at Sri Aurobindo Integral Education Center in Rairangpur and served as a junior assistant in the Irrigation & Power Department, Government of Odisha, in the late 1970s. Having served the community, she started her political career in 1997 as a councillor.

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Murmu’s nomination sends a strong political signal in several states where the BJP has been trying to grow. The tribal community has shown overwhelming support for the BJP in the last two general elections. In 2019, of the total 47 ST reserved seats, BJP won 35. In an earlier press conference, BJP President J P Nadda made it clear that India’s President would be from the eastern part of the country.

The non-BJP states with significant ST populations are Maharashtra (10.05 per cent), Odisha (23 per cent), Rajasthan (13.4 per cent), Jharkhand (27 per cent), Chattisgarh (31 per cent). In terms of optics, it would be difficult for leaders from these states not to vote for an ST candidate.

The BJP has been trying to make inroads in Odisha for quite some time. It has been successful in getting a foothold in the Lok Sabha elections. With Murmu’s nomination, the party may move closer to gaining influence in the state assembly as well. This is the first time that someone from the state will occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan. Given the significance of the move, even the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD might end up supporting the BJP candidate. Murmu as President will create political ripples in the adjoining tribal-dominant states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh as well as they go to the polls.

In the upcoming Gujarat elections, the move will help BJP strengthen its hold in the tribal-dominant areas. So far, the Congress, which won 15 of 27 ST reserved seats, has been ahead in wooing the community in the state.

Given the NDA’s dominance in legislatures, it is likely that its candidate will be President. This will be the third time the BJP will choose a President who is from a humble background. In addition, in the last general elections and some recent assembly polls, the BJP has seen a greater response from women voters.

Now, with a woman from a tribal community as its nominee for President, the party is trying to give out the message that it is creating space in the highest office to a politically marginalised community. This is something the BJP has been targeted by the Opposition for not doing.

Raina and Shrivastava are Delhi-based independent researchers. Views are personal

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