NDA’s choice of Droupadi Murmu as the candidate for President of India, is in line with the Narendra Modi paradigm of empowering the ‘non-entitled class’.
New Delhi: After NDA declared Droupadi Murmu as its candidate for President of India, an Odisha cadre IAS officer posted this on a Whatsapp group: “When I was Sub Collector, Bhubaneswar, one evening I came back to the office after my field tour and found a lady sitting in front of my office chamber. I requested her to come into my office room and enquired about the purpose of her visit. She said, ‘one application is pending in your office for extension of permission to sell her land in Bhubaneswar’. I immediately called for the case record and found that she had taken extension thrice and this was her fourth application for extension. I wanted to know the reason of obtaining the permission thrice and not selling the land. I was shocked when she gave the reason of taking multiple permissions. After obtaining the first permission to sell the land, her son expired and in subsequent extensions she faced two more mishaps of death of her husband and another son. She wanted to sell the land to settle some loan. I tasked her furnish an affidavit regarding non transaction of the land. She submitted it the same the next day. I ensured that the permission was granted that day itself. The lady was no other than Mrs Droupadi Murmu. She is that noble and humble lady, who, in spite of being a former Minister, came to the office of Sub Collector like a common citizen for her work. We are proud of her as she is going to be the Head of the Nation.”
The above sums up the modest moorings and demeanour of the lady who is slated to be the 15th Rashtrapati. NDA, which has fielded her, has 48% of electoral college vote; BJD, which has endorsed her has another 4%—thus ab initio Murmu seems to be well past the post. She has sought support from all parties, even from Mamata Banerjee, who was the principal sponsor of the combined 17-party Opposition candidate, Yashwant Sinha (who was vice president of Trinamool Congress, he quit TMC to stand as an Independent). The Presidential poll 2022 is slated to be a contest between a 64-year-old Tribal lady (who began as a school teacher, entered politics in 1997 by winning as a Councillor in Mayurbhanj district’s Rairangpur Nagar Panchayat and went on to be an MLA and later Minister in Odisha and thereafter Governor of Jharkhand) and 84-year-old former IAS officer, who has been Union Minister in Janata and BJP regimes and had quit BJP in 2018 after being sidelined under the new dispensation. He joined TMC in 2021.
NDA’s choice for Rashtrapati Bhavan is in line with the Narendra Modi paradigm of empowering those who were left out of the “entitled class” of Lutyens Delhi. As in 2017, this time too the mantle has fallen on a party worker who had worked for the welfare of the downtrodden. In sharp relief, the Opposition has opted for the old guard—a bureaucrat who quit service after 24 years to pursue his political ambition.
The choice of Droupadi Murmu in 2022 is in consonance with the process initiated by BJP in 2017 when it chose Ram Nath Kovind, who had served as head of the BJP Dalit Morcha—Murmu has been vice president of the party’s Scheduled Tribes Morcha. When the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime of BJP had the chance to nominate a Rashtrapati in 2022, then too choice fell not on a traditional politician—as was the case in Congress and Janata dispensations. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is remembered as well as revered as one of the prominent occupiers of the top of the Raisina Hill.
BJP’s mentor organisation, RSS, began its work among Tribals soon after Independence. It is perhaps ironical that the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in Jashpur, which is now seven decades old, was set up as result of the visit to Jashpur, now in Chhattisgarh, by the then Congress Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla, who was greeted with black flags. The CM acquainted himself with the reason for the protest and was appalled by the facts of life of the Tribals. He along with Gandhian, Thakkar Bappa envisaged welfare work; the RSS stepped in, with the second Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar playing yeoman role—the Jashpur ashram has been the beacon of tribal welfare work since. Congress did not see opportunity in what Shukla initiated.
The underlying discourse of the 2022 Rashtrapati poll is the sidelining of Indian National Congress. The 2017 Opposition candidate, who lost, was veteran Congressperson Meira Kumar, daughter of Babu Jagjivan Ram, who was a Dalit icon since he first became a Union Minister in 1946. The 17 Opposition parties had decided to unite provided that a Congress nominee was not chosen in 2022—Yashwant Sinha’s sympathies for the JP movement against Indira Gandhi were known and his joining Janata Party under Chandrashekhar in 1984 marked the beginning of his anti-Congress political career.
Indian National Congress seems to be slipping away. Its core position in national politics is eroding. It could perhaps retrieve its prestige by backing a Tribal lady rather than a former bureaucrat—Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, which have the residual two Congress governments, have sizeable ST population.