Oppn unity flounders as President takes charge

The Presidential election laid bare the poor preparedness by the opposition, felled as it was by the NDA’s choice of candidate

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, July 25, 2022, 03:49 AM IST
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Droupadi Murmu, who will take oath as the 15th President of India in the Central Hall of Parliament today, has many firsts to her name — first President to be born after Independence, first tribal woman to hold the highest office of the country, etc. But her choice as presidential candidate and subsequent election followed a distinct pattern that is fast becoming the hallmark of the BJP-led NDA government — playing its trump cards of inclusive politics and social engineering, thereby rendering any opposition ineffective. By fielding a tribal and a woman, the government virtually earned a walkover as the combined opposition’s choice of veteran politician Yashwant Sinha proved to be no match for the BJP’s brilliant pick. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's and Shiv Sena’s decision to back Murmu pointed as much to cracks in opposition unity as political compulsions. The candidature of Murmu’s predecessor Ram Nath Kovind, only the second Dalit President in India’s history, was a similar masterstroke. Kovind’s allegiance to the BJP and the present dispensation was never in doubt, and his Presidency remained unremarkable even as he signed off calling for an end to partisan politics. It remains to be seen if Murmu also stays true to her BJP roots or sets out to work for and empower the traditionally backward Adivasi community she hails from. Her rise is indeed remarkable — from being the first woman in her Santhal village to go to college, to becoming two-time legislator in the Odisha Assembly, minister in the state government and then Governor of Jharkhand. As Governor, she returned two amendment bills to the Chotanagpur Tenancy and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Acts that would allegedly facilitate easy transfer of land for industrial use. The Bills, cleared by the then BJP government in Jharkhand, met with protests from tribal communities and Murmu, while returning them, noted that injustice would not flow from her pen. One hopes that the new occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan will remain committed to justice and fairplay in the five years of her tenure.

The Presidential election laid bare the poor preparedness by the opposition, felled as it was by the NDA’s choice of candidate, and also highlighted the RSS-BJP strategy of giving representation to the 8.6 per cent Adivasi population of India spread over many states. That one of them has made it to the highest office in the land will no doubt enthuse tribals and further strengthen the Sangh Parivar project to co-opt them into the Hindutva fold. The hold of the Naxals on tribals is steadily waning, and the BJP hopes to reap electoral benefits in states with large tribal populations. The combined opposition settled on TMC leader Yashwant Sinha as its candidate after NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah and former Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi turned down requests to contest the election. Though Sinha wrote to all MLAs and MPs to exercise their conscience vote, the result was indeed a foregone conclusion with parties like the BJD and YSRCP backing Murmu. A considerable amount of cross-voting in her favour also sank the opposition.

The vice-presidential election, too, has exposed the disarray in the opposition camp and how unlikely it is to pose any serious challenge to the BJP-led NDA in the 2024 general election. While the BJP chose Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar, a Jat from Rajasthan, as its vice-presidential candidate, the opposition settled on Congress veteran Margaret Alva, a move that immediately triggered fissures with the Trinamul Congress announcing its intention to abstain, ostensibly for not being taken into confidence about the choice of candidate. The BJP’s well-thought-out move was keeping in mind elections in Rajasthan next year and to appeal to Jat voters in Haryana and Punjab, alienated in the wake of the farmers’ agitation. Amid speculation about a Muslim being the likely choice for vice-president, the BJP again sprang a surprise. Dhankar’s road to victory seems to be an easy one as the battle for supremacy in the Opposition camp plays out. It will take much more than a few electoral victories in states to combat the mighty juggernaut that the BJP poses. The Presidential and vice-presidential polls were an opportunity to test the index of opposition unity, but petty egos and the utter shambles that the Grand Old Party is in led to the sinking of any hope of taking on the ruling party’s impressive electoral machinery. The battle for Raisina Hill was won easily by the BJP. Now the holder of the highest Constitutional office in India has to invoke her primary duty of preserving, protecting and defending the law of the land in the 75th year of India’s independence.

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