Tribal woman leader is NDA pick for President
Droupadi Murmu, the former governor of Jharkhand, will be the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) nominee for the July 18 Presidential election, and most likely the next President of the Republic. The decision to nominate her was taken at the meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s parliamentary board chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday.
The announcement came hours after 17 opposition parties decided to field former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, currently with the Trinamool Congress, as its consensus candidate, after its first three choices demurred.
In the NDA’s case, Murmu’s name was among the first to do the rounds, although, as the decision neared, there was speculation of a more mainstream choice. By picking Murmu, a woman and a tribal, the BJP has yet again walked the talk on inclusion and empowerment.
Addressing the media, party president JP Nadda said, “Rajanth Singh and I spoke to the NDA and UPA (the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance), but there was no consensus (with the UPA) and today UPA nominated their candidate. In today’s meeting, the Parliamentary Board decided that we will also announce our candidate.”
Nadda said it would have been good had the name been chosen through consensus between the government and the opposition. “…Almost 20 names were discussed. We decided to pick someone from the East and till date no woman from a tribal community has been picked for the post, so we picked the name of Droupadi Murmu,” he said.
Murmu, 64, who hails from Odisha, served as the first woman governor of Jharkhand. Born into a Santal tribal family in 1958, she overcame significant hardship to complete her education and began her career as a teacher in Sri Aurobindo Education Centre, Rairangpur and taught without being paid a salary.
Her political career began when she was elected to the local body of Rairangpur. She entered the state assembly in 2000 on a BJP ticket, and served as a minister between 2000 and 2004 in the BJP-BJD coalition. In 2015, she was named governor of Jharkhand, and she served in that position till last year.
Murmu’s nomination is in line with the BJP’s efforts to establish itself with tribal communities. It also fits with the party’s strategy of focussing on women who have emerged as a loyal and important vote bank.
The party’s recent victory in a clutch of state elections and in the 2019 general election is attributed to the support it gained from women, SCs, STs and the OBCs.
The need to keep women-centric issues at the core of the government’s decision making was underlined by Modi after the BJP won the assembly elections held in February-March in Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Goa and Uttarakhand, where women voters were said to have voted decisively for the party.
While addressing the Gujarat Panchayat Mahasammelan in March, he said, the “overwhelming support that the party has received from women shows that elections will now have to be designed around issues that resonate, the most with this constituency of supporters.”
The BJP’s efforts to give political space to representatives of marginalised communities have also paid off. Senior party leaders credit the support from OBCs, SCs and STs for helping expand the party’s footprint and boost its vote share across the country.
The Parliamentary Board is highest decision-making body of the party and comprises party president JP Nadda, Union ministers Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, national general secretary (organisation) BL Santhosh, and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
The term of President Ram Nath Kovind will end on July 24.
On Tuesday morning, the Opposition parties picked Sinha as their candidate.
In a joint statement, the 17 opposition parties said: “In the forthcoming Presidential Election, which is being held in the year of the 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence, we have decided to field a common candidate who can truly serve as the Custodian of the Constitution and stop the Modi Government from doing further damage to Indian democracy and India’s social fabric.”
Opposition leaders said the NCP’s Sharad Pawar and other leaders have started reaching out to non-NDA parties that have remained non-committal about their support for a a common candidate. The Telangana Rashtriya Samithi has already said it will support Sinha.
“We will also try to convince the BJD and YSR Congress,” Pawar said, referring to two other opposition parties that have not attended meetings to pick a common candidate.
Sinha, 84, emerged as the unanimous choice of the Opposition parties after Pawar (the first choice of these parties), National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson and former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, refused to contest the polls.
On Monday, Sinha’s name was discussed, and while almost all parties were for it, the Congress and some other parties insisted that he must quit the Trinamool Congress to enable selection of a political but non-party candidate. On Tuesday morning, Sinha indicated he would do so: “I am grateful to Mamataji for the honour and prestige she bestowed on me in the TMC. Now, time has come when for a larger national cause I must step aside from the party to work for greater opposition unity. I am sure she approves of the step.”
Once a key member of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, and a senior BJP leader, Sinha has, in recent years, become a vocal critic of the party.
The BJP on Friday, constituted a 14-member management team with Union minister Gajendra Shekhawat as its convener, to coordinate with all the state units and allies for the presidential elections.
The NDA government is short of the required majority mark by a little less than 20,000 votes. It is banking on support from allies such as the AIADMK and friendly parties that are not part of the NDA such as the BJD and YSRCP apart from independents and smaller parties.