Draupadi Murmu, 64, is from Odisha, and later this month she could become India’s first tribal (Adivasi) woman president. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party is working overtime to ensure its victory in the 2024 elections. Adivasi and Dalits are still marginalised. The BJP is taking advantage of a recent political crisis in Maharashtra.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – A tribal (Adivasi) woman could be the next president of India.
The National Democratic Alliance, the coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, nominated Draupadi Murmu as its candidate for the post of President of India.
An electoral college constituted by the members of both houses of India’s parliament along with weighted votes from the members of state legislative assemblies will pick India’s head of state on 18 July.
Elected to a five-year term, the Indian president performs mostly ceremonial and representative functions, as executive power is exercised by the prime minister.
If elected, Murmu would become the second woman and first Adivasi (indigenous tribal people) to hold India’s highest office.
For many, Murmu’s victory is a foregone conclusion. A former union (federal) minister, Yashwant Sinha, is the candidate chosen by opposition parties, but his chances appear to be very slim.
The 64-year-old Murmu comes from a mostly Santal village where her father and grandfather served as local heads. She started out as a school teacher before joining the BJP in 1997.
After holding various posts at the local and state level, in 2015 she became the first tribal woman to be appointed governor of Jharkhand and serve a full term.
The party portrays her as a woman from a humble background who dedicated much of her adult life to the community. Tragedy marred her own life with the death of her husband and two sons.
Her candidacy for president had already been floated in 2017, two years before Modi’s re-election as prime minister.
The next election for the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, will be held in May 2024. With Murmu as the country's 15th president, the BJP hopes to win over Adivasi voters and broaden its electoral base.
Even before Murmu became the official nominee, the current BJP president, Jagat Prakash Nadda, announced that the coalition candidate would come from eastern India.
The BJP has always dominated elections in western states, while in the east, where Adivasis are concentrated, local voters tend to vote for its coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance.
Not voting for a Dalit candidate will be a tough choice for legislators in states not aligned with the BJP but with many Adivasi voters, most notably Odisha (where Adivasis represent 23 per cent of the population), Jharkhand (27 per cent) and Chhattisgarh (31 per cent).
Despite Murmu’s nomination, the opposition repeatedly criticised the BJP for failing to include marginalised groups. What is more, The Wire news website points out that police abuses against Dalits continue.
In Dhinkia (Odisha) alone, 60 Dalit activists were arrested in the last six months, later released on bail. For years, locals have opposed a steel mill (now owned by the Jindal Group) that threatens the environment and the livelihoods of local residents, mostly fisherfolk and betel leaf farmers.
For the opposition, it is clear that the BJP is trying everything to win in the next elections. In recent weeks, a political crisis broke out within the party that governed Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena. On 30 June, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray resigned.
Although the BJP claims it “has nothing to do with political turmoil in Maharashtra,” opposition leaders believe that the split within the party is opening a path for the BJP, working behind the scenes.
Immediately after taking office, Maharashtra’s new chief minister, Eknath Shinde, pledged his support and loyalty to the BJP while its new deputy chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, slammed the Shiv Sena for its past alliance with the Congress party against the BJP.