Barring an unforeseen event, Droupadi Murmu, 64, seems set to be India’s 15th President. Her candidature by the ruling NDA on Tuesday would immediately attract the non-NDA vote to more than cover the slight shortfall to the half-way mark. Of course there will be a contest, but Yashwant Sinha, a BJP renegade-turned-critic of PM Modi, is hardly in a position to pose a serious challenge. That Sinha was the third-best choice of the divided opposition, with Farooq Abdullah and Gopalkrishna Gandhi politely declining to become the proverbial sacrificial goat, speaks of Sinha’s stature in the wider polity.
On the other hand, the 64-year-old Murmu comes with excellent social and political credentials. A Santhal tribal from Odisha’s Mayurbhanj, hers is a life-story of constant struggle and upliftment by sheer grit and determination. After graduating at a time when Adivasi women hardly went to college, she started life as a government clerk before resigning to become a school teacher. A few years later, she joined active politics and was twice elected to the State Assembly, serving as a minister in the BJD-BJP government under Naveen Patnaik. Between 2015-21, she was the Governor of Jharkhand. It, therefore, came as no surprise when Patnaik announced support for Murmu, virtually ensuring her election as the next head of state. A number of other parties outside the NDA are likely to support her candidature, as her being an Adivasi woman lends further lustre to her candidature in these politically fraught times.
Call it tokenism or identity politics, but you have to hand it to the BJP that its presidential picks have been quite imaginative, ticking all the right boxes politically. Vajpayee picked A P J Abdul Kalam who made an excellent president. Modi’s first pick, the outgoing President Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit from Kanpur, while in office has always been low-key but correct and dignified. And now Murmu, whose journey from a tribal hamlet in Odisha’s backwaters to Rashtrapati Bhawan epitomises the struggle of millions of her compatriots who have risen from grinding poverty and squalor by dint of their hard work and dedication. Women particularly would draw inspiration from Murmu’s achievement. On its part, by electing Murmu President, the BJP would try and win over the sizeable tribal vote in the coming Gujarat election. Even in Odisha the party stands to gain by elevating Murmu to the highest office in the land. Clearly, Modi has immense capacity to disarm the Opposition, leaving it stranded with a non-starter of a campaign.
Address this revolt
We do not know how the revolt in the Shiv Sena will end, but one thing is certain. Even if the Sena leadership were to manage somehow to paper over the rebellion, the patchy MVA has become far more rickety than ever before during the unremarkable last two-and-a-half-years. It can hardly deliver good governance when its own survival alone will consume all its time and energies. The opportunistic alliance of hitherto bitter opponents was born due to the common desire to share power and to keep the BJP out. The Sena had betrayed its traditional partner to sup with its traditional rivals for the sake of the CM’s post. Now, there is rebellion in its ranks against that betrayal. Eknath Shinde and his loyalist MLAs demand that the Sena go back and team up with the BJP.
The recent polls to the Rajya Sabha and to the Legislative Council reflected the deep fissures in the MVA. Uddhav Thackeray may have to reassess the role of his close advisers. Trusting some of them too much may now have brought him to the brink of a vertical split in the party. Relying on self-styled Chanakayas who bask in his reflected glory may prove costly. Someone like Eknath Shinde, who is a grassroots leader with substantial support among the people, needs to be persuaded to return to the fold. His genuine grievances ought to be addressed. Glib-talking “akhbari netas” should not be allowed to lord it over the party, and to take precedence over genuine grassroots leaders who alone have made the Sena what it is today. It will be a setback for the Sena if someone like Eknath Shinde is allowed to leave. The Sena may have weathered earlier revolts while it was not in power. The latest one can sink the Sena-led government unless the rebels are brought back home. Heed their genuine grievances, and form a strong and purposeful government.