Not just electoral politics

Tribal as President

By Sagarneel Sinha

At a time when the country is celebrating its 75 years of independence, it is really heartening that a tribal and a woman, Droupadi Murmu, is set to get elected as the President of India. Belonging to the Santhal community, she hails from Odisha and is a self-made leader, who was Minister in Odisha government and later became Governor of Jharkhand. Nominated by the BJP-led NDA, the largest bloc in the electoral college that elects the President, and with BJD and YSR Congress, ruling parties in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh respectively extending support Murmu’s victory is just a matter of time. The presidential elections would be held on July 18 and the results would be out on July 21.
Sceptics, however, are refusing to view this beyond symbolism. They argue that the post of President is a ceremonial one and the nomination of a tribal is just an eyewash. True, the post is mostly ceremonial and the power rests with the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, but that doesn’t mean the President has no powers. One of the crucial powers vested is that in case of a hung Lok Sabha, it is the President who has the authority to elect the Prime Minister and also dismiss the government if it doesn’t have the majority in the Lok Sabha.
The Opposition parties and the Left-leaning intellectuals claim the policies of the present dispensation, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, haven’t been fair to the marginalised sections of the country. And opting for a tribal for the top post is just an act of symbolism by the BJP. Their assessment is simply refusing to see the changes happening on the ground.
Over the last years, the BJP has increased its support among the marginalised sections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 44% of tribals, according to the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey, voted for the BJP. Back in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the figure of tribals voting for the saffron party was 38%. Not only tribals, but the BJP has also been able to increase its support among the Dalits. According to CSDS-Lokniti, it got 33% vote of the Dalits in the 2019 polls, an increase of 9% in comparison to 2014.
The Left and the liberals choose not to accept the bitter fact that the BJP is no more a Brahmanical party or a party of the “upper-castes”. A significant chunk of the backward sections of the society today are its voters. Not only is the BJP ruling at the Centre but in majority of the States because of the tacit support it is getting from these backward sections. So it’s quite natural the BJP sees its responsibility to address their issues and aspirations.
At the same time, the Left and the liberals aren’t wrong when they say Murmu’s nomination has a lot to do with electoral politics. Given the tribal population in many States, of course, this decision is taken by looking at the electoral interests of the party. In a democracy, this isn’t wrong either. As Murmu hails from Odisha, it is no secret that the BJP is eyeing this eastern State ruled by Naveen Patnaik. Additionally, the calculated move is also taken to ensure electoral benefits in two neighbouring eastern States — Jharkhand and West Bengal.
In tribal areas of West Bengal, the BJP got electoral benefits in the 2019 polls but failed to keep that momentum in the 2021 Assembly polls. Similarly, the BJP is also focussing on Jharkhand, a State with a significant tribal population, where the party lost in the 2019 Assembly polls due to erosion in tribal support. There are other States such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Gujarat with significant tribal populations.
The critics are also missing the point that the nomination of a tribal to the President’s post isn’t just about electoral politics. The ideological parent of the BJP, the RSS-led Sangh Parivar, has been trying to get a foothold for decades among the backward sections, particularly the Dalits and the Scheduled Tribes. It has been working tirelessly to spread the ideology of Hindutva among these marginalised sections.
By nominating a tribal, the Sangh Parivar wants to clearly convey the message that the Scheduled Tribes have the right to occupy the highest post of the country, which never happened in the past 75 years. Although the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have been able to gain a foothold among these marginalised sections, their target is to consolidate their presence. Also, there are areas where the party and the Sangh still have to grow — the tribal dominated-areas in the Northeast.
In recent times, the BJP has successfully penetrated here, as seen in this year’s Manipur Assembly polls. However, BJP’s electoral victory has little to do with the party’s Hindutva ideology and both are aware of it. That’s the reason, the BJP chose Murmu out of a list of 20 probable’s this time. Last time, it had nominated Ramnath Kovind, a Dalit, to enter Rashtrapati Bhavan.
On the other hand, the Opposition — Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPM, NCP etc — has nominated former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, who was a Central minister in Vajpayee government. He quit the party as he felt ignored by the “New BJP”. Sinha’s nomination hasn’t gone down well within the Opposition too. The supporters of CPM are questioning the party for supporting a former BJP leader and a candidate sponsored by their arch-rival Mamata Banerjee, TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister. After quitting BJP last year, Sinha had joined TMC. The tribal party, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is unlikely to him as it can’t be seen to vote against one of its own. Mayawati’s BSP has already announced her support for Murmu.
As the parties can’t issue whips in this election, the Opposition camp is worried that some, particularly tribal MLAs and MPs, may vote with the ruling NDA camp. The only achievement for the Opposition camp is that this time Telangana Chief Minister KCR’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi has extended support to Sinha, though last time it had supported NDA’s candidate.
That the BJP-led NDA has the upper hand in the presidential polls was known to all. The Opposition, could have at least sent a correct political message by nominating a better candidate than Sinha. But it failed to do so, clearly showing their hopelessness and desperation to just fight the BJP without an alternative agenda. On the other hand, supported by its Hindutva agenda, the BJP by choosing Murmu has sent a loud and clear message: it cares about the marginalised sections and is serious about women empowerment. The election of the country’s next President is to prove it. — INFA

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