NDA’s Presidential pick Draupadi Murmu assumed office as the 15th President of India and also the country’s first tribal woman to have been elected to the high office. Hailing from a predominantly tribal district of Odisha, Mayurbhanj, Murmu’s work as a state functionary in various capacities is remembered as bold with grit and humility. Known for her unwavering connections to her tribal heritage, Murmu is revered. A progressive leader, she is said to be a believer in tradition, walking hand in hand with modernity. This was seen in multitudes of initiatives she undertook during her tenure as a widely respected Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and as a Governor of Jharkhand. That she replaced a Dalit President is proof of NDA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
A tribal as the first citizen of India was a dream of the tribal community since Independence. Murmu will symbolise the coming of a new age in India, ushering in the intersection of two vulnerable identities in society – a tribal and a woman – to transform and protect the people she represented with unwavering confidence. This is the highest honour for the marginalised. For NDA, having selected Murmu may prove to be a stepping stone in bringing various issues involving tribal – especially, tribal women – into the mainstream public discourse. With her at the helm as President, there are greater hopes of highlighting the tribal and tribulations of the tribal, women, the invisible, the down-trodden and the often forgotten. Her approach, combining tradition with modernity, is the need of the hour. Since independence, speeches have been made on the question of tribal welfare. One has concentrated on giving this issue its true relevance and importance. Tribals have been a key concern, but have not received focused attention. This is perhaps why their issues take ages to resolve.
For example, the demand for Jharkhand, a separate State for Adivasis, took more than half a century, though the demand began before independence. Similarly, official recognition of the Santhali language lingered for a long. It was only because the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA Government recognised these issues, that they got the relevance they deserved. However, several issues persist, which require discussion and resolution. As per the Constitution, the powers of the Governor along with the President are limited. They have to work in unison with the Government through consultations with the Cabinet. However, Murmu is not one to go along with the wishes of the Government. She has time and again proved to be the real custodian of the Constitution for the tribals of Jharkhand. Her firm stand against Raghubar Das-led Government in Jharkhand on Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy act proved her will to fight for tribal rights – a bold step by a Governor from the same party. She exercised her Constitutional powers again to oppose the formation of the Tribal Advisory Council by the UPA Government in Jharkhand, as her consent was not taken by chief minister Sibbu Soren. All in all, a lot is now riding on Murmu’s shoulders as she steps into the Raj Bhawan along with the dreams and aspirations of millions of tribals and women of the country.