India’s Next President Elects Female Politician Draupadi Murmu


UPARBEDA (India) — Many Indians still use firewood to cook in remote villages like Uparbeda. Community hand pumps provide water. The electricity was not yet available to Churamuni Tudu’s house — at least, until last month.

This was the moment Droupadi Murmu became her sister-in law and became likely to be India’s next president. Soon news outlets reported that many people living in the village where Ms. Murmu was born were still without electricity. Soon after, workers were dispatched to hook up Ms. Tudu with other residents to the grid.

“Now, I don’t need to walk half an hour just to charge my phone,” Ms. Tudu said. She took a photo of the newly installed meter that was mounted on her veranda wall. “My grandchildren can still read at night when they visit me.”

India’s presidency is mostly ceremonial. It will be significant beyond Uparbeda when Ms. Murmu is sworn into office next week after she was declared elected by the lawmakers.

Ms. Murmu will not only be the second Indian female president, but she will also be the first woman to represent the country’s Indigenous tribe communities. These are the economically marginalized populations that make up almost 10 percent of India’s total population.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (or B.J.P.) governing party, which nominated Ms. Murmu to the presidency last month with its allies, believes her new prominence will draw attention to India’s hundreds and thousands of officially recognized tribes. Many of their members live in remote villages like Uparbeda.

“Since independence no one from this diverse tribe community had found representation in this level,” stated Samir Mohanty (B.J.P.’s president, Odisha State), which includes Uparbeda.

Others view the party’s selection of Ms. Murmu to be a deliberate play for votes. B.J.P. is a Hindu nationalist party that has tried for years to reach tribal voters in Odisha where they account for nearly 25% of the population.

“For the past eight to ten years, the B.J.P. has been repackaged. “The new packaging of the B.J.P. has been going on for the last eight to 10 years, that it’s a party of lower castes and the marginalized, and they want them to promote,” Harish Wankhede, a professor at Jawahar Lal Nehru University in Delhi, who specializes in identity politics, said.

Ms. Murmu (64), is a member one of India’s oldest tribes, the Santhals. They are known for the uprising against British rule during the 1850s. Born to a rice farmer, Ms. Murmu was educated in Uparbeda’s village council. As a child she walked one kilometer to school and then studied by candlelight at night.

She began her career as a teacher, but soon moved into local politics and joined the B.J.P. She was elected to the Odisha state legislature. The party nominated her to the office of governor in Jharkhand, which is a neighboring state with a large tribal population. She held that office until last year.

Ms. Murmu is known for her soft-spokenness and low self-importance. In 2016, she stated to an interviewer that she didn’t originally intend to run for public office. She said, “Politics was not looked at with an optimistic point of view” at the time. “Especially for women. “Especially for women.

Ms. Murmu, India’s 15th president will be essentially a figurehead. Jawaharlal Naehru, India’s first prime Minister, once stated that the presidency was meant to have “great authority but no real power.” However, over the years, presidents have used their influence to solve various political crises , and have criticised governments for policies they disagree with.

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