Amidst speculation over the next President of India, a leading contender, Jharkhand governor Droupadi Murmu has caught the imagination of tribal activists and leaders, including those opposed to the BJP’s alleged anti-tribal idea of development.
The incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee’s term will expire on July 25, and at least five contenders are rumoured to be in the race to be his successor even as opposition parties are trying to put up a united candidate.
Political experts are of the opinion that Murmu’s appointment as the President may help the BJP shed its alleged anti-tribal image in eastern India and also give the party an edge over its rivals during the upcoming Odisha elections.
“Odisha is a priority for the BJP. Murmu is a tribal woman who hails from Odisha. So, appointing her as the President will kill two birds with one stone for the BJP. The party may regain its fast diminishing tribal support in the region and also make a manse in Odisha,” said Dr Pankaj Prasun, director of the Centre for Political Research and Analysis (CIPRA), New Delhi.
In Jharkhand, the BJP has been facing backlash from tribal outfits over the government’s bid to tweak the twin tenancy laws—Chottanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act—which make tribal lands available for non-agricultural development purposes which tribals see as a threat to their existence.
The BJP government’s domicile policy in the state too has upset tribals. At least nine tribal protesters were killed in police firing last year during agitation against the anti-tribal policies.
Salkhan Murmu, a former BJP MP from Odisha’s Mayurbhanj who has now become its critic because of the party’s “Modi-fied” style of development, welcomed the proposal to have Droupadi Murmu as the President.
“Tribals in India are facing troubles and frequent human rights violations. We need a President who understands the tribal sentiments,” said the 64-year-old tribal rights activist who works in Jharkhand, Bengal, Odisha, Assam, Bihar, states with considerable tribal population.
He said Droupadi Murmu’s nomination as the President will boost the morale of tribals across India and help BJP garner support, but she would come under pressure of BJP governments in the states and the Centre as they were deliberately neglecting the problems of tribals to bring “cosmetic development”.
Droupadi was the district president of BJP in Mayurbhanj (east) during Salkhan’s tenure as MP.
Member of Tribal Advisory Council in Jharkhand, Ratan Tirkey on Thursday posted a picture of Murmu and PM Narendra Modi on Facebook, highlighting her chances of becoming the next president. The reactions on his post, however, criticised the BJP government.
“Keeping politics aside, it will be a historical move if she is made the President of India. The UPA has been mocking BJP as a party of upper caste Hindus. Nominating a tribal woman as the President will be a strong statement,” Tirkey said.
However, he agreed that the upcoming Odisha elections and the tribal uproar may be one of the reasons for the BJP’s decision, if it goes with Murmu.