Rajat Sharma

The message of Droupadi Murmu’s election as President

AKBIt was a proud moment for India on Thursday, when Droupadi Murmu was elected the 15th President of India. She is the first Adivasi woman to be elected to the highest Constitutional post. Murmu will be sworn in as President on Monday, July 25.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in congratulating NDA nominee after her election by a margin of 947 votes. Modi wrote on Twitter: “India scripts history. At a time when 1.3 billion Indians are marking Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, a daughter hailing from a tribal community born in a remote part of eastern India has been elected our President!… Smt. 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, marginalised and the downtrodden.”

Modi displayed his special touch for the President-elect, when after coming out of her residence, Murmu came to the door to bid him farewell. The Prime Minister had a photo-op with her in the portico, and he stood there till the time Murmu went inside, and he then sat in his car.

Murmu bagged 64.03 per cent of the electoral college votes, while her contender Yashwant Sinha got 35.97 per cent votes. Murmu got votes from 540 MPs and 2,284 MLAs. She received 100 per cent votes from Nagaland, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh. 126 MLAs and 17 MPs across 18 states, in a massive crossvoting, cast their votes for Murmu. In Parliament, 208 MPs voted for Yashwant Sinha.

BJP President J P Nadda, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah, Union Ministers Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Dharmendra Pradhan went to Murmu’s residence to congratulate her on being elected President. Her victory was a foregone conclusion, given the wide support that she got from non-NDA parties like Biju Janata Dal, Shiv Sena, JMM and YSR Congress.

Yashwant Sinha got support from Congress, TMC, NCP, RJD, Samajwadi Party, National Conference and Left parties. Several legislators from Congress and NCP also cross-voted for Murmu. 53 votes were found invalid. Before the polling, Yashwant Sinha had appealed to all MPs and MLAs to hear their inner voice of conscience and vote. The opposite happened. Several MPs and MLAs from the opposition camp heard their inner voice of conscience and voted for Murmu.

There were celebrations in Murmu’s home district of Mayurbhanj, particularly in Rairangpur, in Odisha, where people danced in jubilation. Murmu’s family is planning to come to Delhi to attend the oath taking ceremony. Her brother Tarinisen Tudu said, he would go to Delhi to seek blessings from his elder sister. There were also celebrations by tribals in different parts of India.

If one analyses the pattern of cross-voting, one can find that more than 100 non-NDA MPs stepped out of their party line and voted for Murmu, while as many as 104 non-NDA MLAs from 12 states also voted for her. The largest number of cross-voting took place in Assam, where 22 MLAs cross-voted for Murmu. This was followed by 19 MLAs in Madhya Pradesh, 16 in Maharashtra, 10 each in Jharkhand and Gujarat, seven in Meghalaya, six each in Chhattisgarh and Bihar, four in Goa, two in HP, and one each in Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh. All these MLAs deviated from their party line and voted for the NDA nominee.

BJP-led NDA already had the numbers to get its candidate elected, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi played a big bet. He chose an Adivasi woman as the candidate for India’s highest post. Droupadi Murmu, apart from being a tribal, had been working for the Adivasis and downtrodden since several decades, had a long political background, and her image was clean.

This is the first time since Independence that an Adivasi will occupy the highest post of the land. Already, BJP has chalked out plans for celebrating Murmu’s election as President in 1,30,000 villages spread in more than 100 Adivasi-dominated districts. Her election may also have a big impact on women voters.

In Murmu’s home state of Odisha, and adjoining Jharkhand, and also in north-east states, people from scheduled tribes are present in large numbers. BJP will try to spread its support base among tribal communities. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP had performed well in tribal-dominated areas of Odisha, and would now seek to perform well in the 2024 Odisha assembly elections.

This plan is not only confined to Odisha. There are 1,495 state assembly seats and 47 Lok Sabha seats which are reserved for scheduled tribes. There are 27 ST reserved seats in Gujarat, 25 each in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, 47 in MP, 29 in Jharkhand and 33 in Odisha, where tribals decide who will win.

In Gujarat, BJP has won only nine out of the 27 tribal-dominated districts. Gujarat will be going to polls later this year. Similarly, BJP has won only 8 out of 25 scheduled tribe reserved seats in Rajasthan, two out of 29 in Chhattisgarh, and 16 out of 47 reserved seats in MP. The party now intends to sweep all the reserved ST seats. With Droupadi Murmu as the first tribal President, BJP plans to spread the message that it is working for the betterment of tribals.

There is a clear message that emerges from Droupadi Murmu’s election as President. Firstly, Murmu’s election conveys the message to the poor and tribals that anybody from among them can aspire and strive to reach the highest seat of the land. One must have the will and fervour to serve this nation and its people, and this land is definitely going to accord respect to them.

Secondly, whenever Narendra Modi thinks about selecting people for the highest post, he always gives preference to those in the lowest rungs of society, particularly those who come from poor and backward classes. Had Modi wanted, he could have chosen any big-time party leader or his friend or his admirer, but he preferred to choose an Adivasi, a woman who rose from a poor tribal background to make her mark in politics and governance. Droupadi Murmu’s life is a saga of struggles, her firmness not to bow down in the face of challenges, her keenness to fight and reach her objectives. Those who think that women are weak, must go through Murmu’s life struggles.

Thirdly, Modi selected a candidate who got support from across the political spectrum. It put the façade of unity among opposition parties in disarray. Many of these parties were morally forced to extend support to Murmu. Leaders like Hemant Soren and Uddhav Thackeray were forced to extend support to an Adivasi woman standing for President. MPs who had a large number of tribals in their constituencies, could not ignore the fact that a tribal woman is contesting for the post of President.

Fourthly, Modi and BJP have showed that they have respect for Adivasis, and also for women from poor and backward classes.

With Droupadi Murmu as President, this message will easily reach the hearts of every poor person from backward and tribal communities. To sum up, Murmu’s election is a victory of Narendra Modi’s thoughts, beliefs and politics, and the winner will sit inside Rashtrapati Bhavan for the next five years.

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