New Delhi: Councillor to President of India? The arc of triumph forged through personal tragedy is almost complete for Droupadi Murmu, tribal leader, former Jharkhand governor and now the BJP-led NDA’s presidential candidate who could well be the next occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The low-profile Murmu, believed to be deeply spiritual, is a keen practitioner of the meditation techniques of the Brahma Kumaris, a movement she embraced after she lost her husband, two sons, mother and brother in the just six years between 2009-2015.
An early image Wednesday of the 64-year-old who will be India’s first tribal president and the second woman in the post if elected was perhaps in sync with this facet — her sweeping the floor of the Purnandeswar Shiv temple in Rairangpur in her home state Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district.
Catapulted into the national spotlight after being picked the ruling NDA’s presidential nominee in the July 18 polls Tuesday, Murmu also visited the temples of Lord Jagannath, Shiva and Hanuman to offer prayers.
“She is deeply spiritual and soft-spoken person,” said Basant Kumar Panda, BJP leader and Lok Sabha member from Kalahandi.
It is from Rairangpur that she took her first step up the BJP ladder. She was a councillor in the Rairangpur Notified Area Council in 1997 and rose to being a minister in Odisha’s BJD-BJP coalition government from 2000 to 2004. In 2015, she was appointed governor of Jharkhand and stayed in the post till 2021.
Born June 20, 1958, Murmu was the first woman governor of the state. If elected – with the numbers stacked in favour of the BJP-led NDA combine she is likely to score a win over the Opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha — Murmu will also be the first president to be born after Independence.
“She has been through a lot of pain and struggle, but doesn’t get rattled by adversity,” former Odisha BJP president Manmohan Samal said.
Born into a Santhal family, she is an excellent orator in Santhali and Odia languages, Samal said.
He added that she had worked extensively to improve infrastructure such as roads and ports in the region.
The tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj has been the focus of the BJP, which is eyeing a strong foothold in the state. The BJD snapped ties with the BJP in 2009 and has consolidated its hold over Odisha since then.
Murmu had contested the 2014 assembly election from Rairangpur, but lost to the BJD candidate.
After completing her tenure as Jharkhand governor, Murmu devoted her time to meditation and social work in Rairangpur.
“I am surprised as well as delighted. As a tribal woman from remote Mayurbhanj district, I had not thought about becoming the candidate for the top post,” Murmu told reporters at her Rairangpur residence Tuesday night.
“I was not expecting this opportunity. I have not been attending any political programmes for more than six years after becoming the governor of neighbouring Jharkhand. I hope all will support me,” she said.
The hurdles were several and the achievements many.
Belonging to Mayurbhanj, one of the most remote and underdeveloped districts of the country, Murmu earned her Bachelor’s degree in Arts from Bhubaneswar’s Ramadevi Women’s College in Bhubaneswar and served as a junior assistant in the irrigation and power department in the Odisha government.
She also served as an honorary assistant teacher in the Shri Aurobindo Integral Education Centre in Rairangpur.
Murmu was awarded the Nilkanth Award for the Best MLA of the year in 2007 by the Odisha Legislative assembly.
She has diverse administrative experience having handled ministries such as transport, commerce, fisheries and animal husbandry in the Odisha government.
In the BJP, Murmu was vice president and later president of the Scheduled Tribe Morcha in Odisha. She was elected the district president of Mayurbhanj (West) unit of the BJP in 2010 and re-elected in 2013. She was also named member of the BJP National Executive (ST Morcha) the same year.
She held the post of district president till April 2015 when she was appointed as the Governor of Jharkhand.
Murmu’s daughter Itishree works in a bank in Odisha.