BJP has announced Draupadi Murmu as its Presidential candidate for the upcoming elections, scheduled to take place on July 18 2022. If elected, Murmu will become the first tribal President, and she will also be only the second woman after Pratibha Patil to be the President of India.
Moreover, she will also be the first President to be born after independence. Born on June 20, 1958, Murmu hails from the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. She was born in a family of the Santhal tribe in Baidaposi in Mayurbhanj district, and her father and grandfather were the village headmen.
Despite the challenging circumstances, Murmu completed her BA at Ramadevi Women’s College in Bhubaneswar. She started her career as a teacher at Shri Aurobindo Integral Education Centre, Rairangpur, before entering politics. She was a member of the Odisha Legislative Assembly from Rairangpur between 2000 and 2009 on a BJP ticket.
Murmu held Commerce and Transport and the Fisheries and Animal husbandry portfolios during her 2000 and 2009 terms, respectively. She is also the first woman governor of the state of Odisha.
Murmu comes from a very humble background, and it is truly admirable to see her reaching the heights of success despite the challenges. It has never been easy for a person, especially a woman belonging to the SC, ST and Other Backward Classes(OBCs), to make a career in politics due to the age-old caste and gender-related societal norms in our country.
Though her journey is no less than an inspiration for everyone, her nomination by a strong Hindu-nationalist party like BJP brings about the question of tokenism in politics. Can her election as the President be merely reduced to identity politics?
Murmu’s nomination is a very strong move by the right-wing BJP that is looking to target the tribal vote bank, which constitutes a good percentage of the population. The BJP government, famous for its Hindu-nationalist policies, seems to be revamping its image of the harsh treatment of marginalised communities in India.
From women’s political representation to marginalised communities’ representation, Murmu’s personal identity definitely ticks a lot of boxes of equal representation in politics. The kind of impact that just the symbolic representation has is not something that can actually positively affect the increased participation of women or marginalised people in politics. It doesn’t necessarily assure the introduction of policies that can benefit the tribal people or women.
The election of a woman president brings to the fore the discussion on women’s political participation. Fewer than a tenth of over 50,000 candidates contesting federal and state elections are women, as per a 2020 report by the Association of Democratic reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW).
Though there is a 33% reservation for women in local councils (Indian Panchayats), the bill to reserve a third of all seats in the state and national legislatures has been pending in the Indian parliament for almost three decades.
If the central government is really aiming for women’s political empowerment, then an introduction of a bill like this could be an initial step towards that. The need for equal representation is of utmost importance, but no women fighting for women’s rights want to be reduced to mere tokenism. The aim is to establish gender equality.
Equal representation is not just a task that needs to be ticked off to get in the good books of a particular social base, but it’s something that needs the attention of the political parties in terms of the implementations of policies that can bring about the positive development.
Murmu’s nomination by BJP has also bring-forth the discussion around the political representation of Adivasi communities in India. But the biggest irony is that this step is taken by the same party that has time and again denied the basic rights of Adivasis.
BJP’s proposal for the Citizenship Amendment Act/National Register of Citizens (CAA/NRC) in 2019 had led to a nationwide protest due to its discriminatory nature and a threat to secularism in India. By its own nature, the bill was set to have a negative impact on the people without documentation.
So, a few sections of society, such as the tribal communities, whose generations have lived in and around forests and don’t have the required documentation, were to be suddenly asked to basically not only abandon their own homes but also just be disregarded as even the citizens of their own homeland. They would have been moved to detention centres.
This section of society has faced the brunt of evictions for conservation and industrial projects over the years, and a proposal like NRC posed the biggest threat to their basic human rights. Another harsh ruling that took place in 2019 was the Supreme Court ordering the eviction of over 8 million people.
At the same time, BJP, led by Narendra Modi, tried to push for the draconian forest laws, which will permit forest guards to shoot people with impunity. This was the biggest threat to the Forest Rights Act. There was strong resistance from the tribal people against the forest laws, and when the protests became a serious threat to the state authorities, it was suppressed by the government by the use of police and paramilitary forces.
Additionally, BJP proclaimed it as unconstitutional, anti-national, and anti-state, which seems to be a common terminology used by the current government whenever they feel threatened by anyone. The protests that took on a large scale were highly defamed by the state authorities, local and national media, and right-wing civil society, and resulted in the mass repressions of Adivasis in the whole area.
While the talk of an Adivasi leader holding the highest title in the nation is trending, Adivasis across the major central Indian states of Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh are currently fighting for Indigenous Peoples’ collective rights over their lands, territories and natural resources. The movement is called “The Pathalgadi Movement”, which is an autonomous self-determination resistance movement of the Munda Adivasis of Jharkhand’s Khunti district.
The steps taken by the central government in the recent past have clearly shown how less the rights of Adivasis matter to them and how bad they have been treated by the authorities. If a party is truly concerned about the tribal people of India, they should act on the current issues that cater to the betterment of the people.
The election of Draupadi Murmu might as well result in favour of Adivasi people as she herself belongs to the community and understands their situation. But it is not necessarily true that a leader representing a marginalised section of society will have an impact on their development.
Mayawati was both a woman and a leader from a Scheduled Caste, but her holding the highest state position has not necessarily resulted in bringing about any notable change for the people she represents, as noted by Ajoy Bose in the data analysis in her biography.
Backed by the opposition Congress, Yashwant Sinha is contesting against Draupadi Murmu in the presidential elections. He has served as India’s finance minister from 1998 to 2002 during BJP’s term. Sinha, 84, is known to be a BJP rebel who left the party in 2018, following a divergence with Modi on economic issues.
Though the President largely holds ceremonial powers, they also play a crucial role during a political crisis. Thus having someone who has been dedicated to the party will always serve as an advantage for the ruling party.
The journey of Murmu has inspired not only women, but people from other minorities and the future election of her as the President will continue to inspire more people to consider politics as a career. But the fear of it becoming just a task that a ruling party is fulfilling for their good PR will reduce the chances of an actual impact that a decision could make. Political parties should raise beyond political gain and actually work towards uplifting the marginalised sections of society.
Featured image source: Business Today