BJP eyeing tribal votes by nominating Droupadi Murmu as presidential candidate

Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where Assembly polls are due next together have 128 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes, of which the BJP had won just 35 seats last time

Jharkhand governor Droupadi Murmu (courtesy: Twitter)
Jharkhand governor Droupadi Murmu (courtesy: Twitter)

Ashlin Mathew

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded former Jharkhand governor and tribal leader Droupadi Murmu as its presidential candidate as a counter to Yashwant Sinha, the candidate proposed to be fielded by opposition parties including the TMC, NCP, Congress and the Left parties including CPI-M, CPI and CPI-ML.

If elected, Murmu will have several firsts — first Odisha native and first tribal President of India. In addition to being the second woman President in the country, she will also be the first President to be born after the country's Independence.

Murmu’s election is almost certain given that the numbers are stacked in favour of the ruling NDA with 48% of the electoral vote.

Her name was suggested for the President’s post in 2017, but the BJP eventually nominated Ram Nath Kovind who will retiring next month after completing his term.

The BJP's move to name Murmu as its presidential candidate comes ahead of assembly elections in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The saffron party won only 35 seats of the 128 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in these four states in the last assembly elections.

With Murmu's candidacy, the BJP can also hope to get support from smaller parties such as Bharatiya Tribal Party, which has two MLAs each in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

With the choice of Murmu, BJP hopes to strengthen its appeal amongst tribal voters. Her name will also put Jharkhand chief minister and JMM leader Hemant Soren in a tough spot as the party’s focus is tribal identity-based politics. It would be difficult for him to oppose a tribal woman, who has been the governor of his state. Soren came to power riding on the discontent created by the amendments to the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT)/Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Acts under the previous BJP government in the state. Murmu as governor had returned the Bills with queries. The amendments to the two Acts would have given the government more powers to acquire tribal lands.

The Opposition presidential candidate, Yashwant Sinha, is also from Jharkhand.

Additionally, Odisha CM and BJD leader Navin Patnaik has congratulated her candidature, but hasn’t yet announced his support. But Patnaik is likely to do so.

It might also strengthen BJP’s hopes in Odisha, where it has been struggling to increase its track record against BJD. It is also known that Murmu enjoys a personal rapport with Patnaik. The BJD with 21 MPs —12 in Lok Sabha and nine in Rajya Sabha — and 114 MLAs has more than 31,000 votes in the electoral college of MPs and MLAs, which the NDA will need for a smooth sailing of its presidential candidate.

A member of the Santhal community in Odisha, 64-year-old Murmu served as governor of Jharkhand from 2015 to 2021. From Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, Murmu started out as a teacher before entering state politics. A two-time former BJP MLA representing Rairangpur assembly seat in Odisha, she was a minister of state in Naveen Patnaik's council in the BJP-BJD coalition government from 2000 to 2004.

During the BJP-BJD coalition government that came to power in 2000, she held the Commerce and Transport, and, subsequently, the Fisheries and Animal Husbandry portfolios. She even won in 2009 even as the BJP lost against the estranged BJD.

Murmu’s husband Shyam Charan Murmu had died of cardiac arrest several years earlier. One of her sons died under mysterious circumstances in 2009 while the other died in a road mishap in 2012. She has a daughter, who is married and lives in Odisha’s Bhubaneswar.

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