Bhubaneswar: With the BJP-led NDA nominating as its presidential election candidate Droupadi Murmu, hailing from the Santhal community, the third-largest ethnic tribal group in India, the focus is now on the tribals who constitute 8.67 per cent of the country’s population.
If Droupadi Murmu who hails from Odisha is elected, political parties cannot ignore the tribal people when a member of the community is the President. It will also help the BJP will get the dividend in the Assembly elections in states having a good percentage of tribal population, particularly Santhals, observers feel.
Murmu’s selection can also be seen as part of the BJP’s game plan for the Lok Sabha elections and the Assembly polls in Odisha, where tribals constitute over 22 per cent of the total population, in 2024, they said.
In 2017, while as Governor of Jharkhand, Murmu had returned bills proposing an amendment to the Santhal Pragana Tenancy Act, 1976, which sought to give rights to tribals to make commercial use of their lands while ensuring that the land ownership is not changed.
The Act prohibits sale of tribal land to non-tribals in the region along Jharkhand’s border with West Bengal.
“It proves that Murmu can work as per the Constitution withstanding pressure even from the BJP. Generally, women leaders in the BJP get positions and are empowered. I think Murmu will also get the freedom to work,” Smita Nayak, professor of Political Science at Utkal University stated.
Nayak said that no political party can directly oppose a woman and a tribal. “(If she is elected as the President), no political party can ignore the tribals when a member of the community is heading the topmost post of the country,” Nayak asserted.
Since Murmu hails from Odisha and she was a governor in Jharkhand, the impact is obvious in both the states where the saffron party has been trying to get more influence.
Of Odisha’s 147 Assembly constituencies and 21 Lok Sabha seats, tribals represent 33 and five respectively. Of those five Lok Sabha seats, two each are held by the BJD and the BJP while the Congress has won the Koraput seat.
While Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik urged all members of the state Assembly to extend unanimous support to Murmu is the ‘daughter of Odisha’, state BJP president Samir Mohanty claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted many Odias at the national level and nomination of Murmu is the biggest gift to the state.
Congress MLA Mohammad Moquim however, claimed that the BJD and the BJP are now in a race to take credit for Murmu’s nomination.
“Naveen Babu is afraid that the BJP may eat into his party’s woman and tribal vote banks,” Moquim said.
Senior BJP leader Manmohan Samal asserted that though Patnaik is trying to project that the PM had informed him about the NDA nominee’s name before the announcement, it is not true.
Modi and BJP chief JP Nadda have highlighted tribal icons such as Bhagwan Birsa Munda during their programmes in various states.
Senior Congress leader Ganeswar Behera, who belongs to the SC community, however, claimed that making a tribal the country’s President will not have much impact on electoral politics.
“Has the BJP got all the scheduled caste (SC) votes after making Ram Nath Kovind the president? Did the Congress get all Dalit votes after KR Narayan from the SC community became the president?” Behera asked.