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The larger anticipation of the presidential candidate for the National Democratic Alliance comes to an end with Bharatiya Janata Party giving a surprise in the name of Droupadi Murmu. A name, which, before being announced as the presidential candidate for the ruling alliance, was on few people’s radar.
Who is Droupadi Murmu?
A tribal woman born in Mayurbhanj, one the remote districts of Odisha, she has risen through ranks. She is seen as an experienced and able administrator having served the community, party and government in various positions. Murmu was awarded ‘best MLA’ in 2013 by the Legislative Assembly of Odisha.
Before becoming the first tribal woman governor (of Jharkhand), she has served as a member of the national executive committee of BJP and was the head of the women’s wing for Scheduled Tribes in the party.
She began her career as a teacher at Sri Aurobindo Integral Education Centre in Rairangpur and served as Junior Assistant in the Irrigation and Power departments of the government of Odisha in the late 1970s. She started her political career in 1997 as councillor and later became vice-chairperson of Rairangpur.
The move to nominate her is being seen as an out-of-the-box idea and a strong political signal for several states which BJP has been trying to strengthen its foothold in. The tribal community has shown overwhelming support to BJP in the last two general elections. In 2019, of the total 47 ST reserved seats, BJP won 35.
Now, the ruling party has hit multiple targets with a single blow.
Today @BJP4India announces the name of Smt. Droupadi Murmu as our candidate for President of India.
With guidance from @PMOIndia @narendramodi, preference is given to a #tribal, a #woman from the beautiful state of Odisha.
🤞🏼for the first tribal President for #IndiaAt75. pic.twitter.com/4yrBRsFxIJ
— Nirmala Sitharaman (@nsitharaman) June 21, 2022
In his press conference, BJP president J.P. Nadda made it very clear that the next presidential candidate would be from east India. Politically, this has its own significance.
Non-BJP states with the largest section of Scheduled Tribes in their population are Maharashtra (10.05%), Odisha (23%), Rajasthan (13.4%), Jharkhand (27%), Chattisgarh (31%). In terms of optics, it would be difficult for MPs and MLAs of these states to not vote for an ST candidate.
Plus, BJP has been trying to make in-roads in Odisha for quite some time now. Though they had been successful in getting a foothold in the Lok Sabha elections, their long-held hope for a win in the state elections might seem achievable with this move. This is the first time that someone from the state will hold the highest constitutional position. The significance is not lost on Naveen Patnaik, whose Biju Janata Dal will support the BJP candidate.
The selection will also create political ripples in adjoining states with significant tribal populations, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, where elections are due in the coming years. These are the states where BJP had been in power till the last elections.
At the national level, BJP has been dominant in the western states, almost sweeping elections there. It has been the longtime plan of BJP to deepen its roots in the eastern states where it has been more dependent on alliance partners.
With the upcoming elections in Gujarat, this move will help BJP in strengthening its hold in the state’s tribal dominant areas too. So far, Congress which won 15 of 27 ST reserved seats in Gujarat in the last assembly polls, has been ahead in consolidation of ST community which comprises 13% of the state population.
This will be the third time when the BJP would choose a president who comes from a humble background and has the image of having given his or her life for the betterment of the community.
In the last general and a few state elections, BJP has got good response from women voters. Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand assembly elections are examples.
Now, with the name of a woman from a tribal community for president, BJP will be giving out the message of having given space to one of the least politically addressed communities. This is something that BJP had time and again been targeted by the opposition for not doing.
Siddharth Raina and Priyadarshi Shrivastava are Delhi-based independent researchers. Views are personal.