GhoseSpot | Presidential poll: Why nomination of a tribal woman is not just of symbolic value

The countdown to the historic moment when India would get its first tribal woman President was set in motion this morning with Droupadi Murmu filing her nomination for the election at the Parliament House as a candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). To underscore the significance of the occasion, she was accompanied by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president JP Nadda and several senior ministers and leaders of the party. In the Modi government, major people-related decisions are usually kept under a tight wrap till the last minute. However, in the case of Murmu it was less of a surprise. The likelihood of having a woman President was in the air for some time. But that would not have been a first as the country has already had a lady president in Pratibha Patil. Hence, it was speculated that Narendra Modi may go a step further by supporting Dalit or tribal woman as president. In such a case, Droupadi Murmu, who had already earned her spurs as the Governor of Jharkhand, would be a logical choice. That it was not a sudden call was confirmed by Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha and president of the Biju Janata Dal. Almost immediately after the announcement, he tweeted his endorsement for Murmu, who hailed from the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. In the tweet, he also mentioned that her name was discussed with him by Prime Minister Modi before he left India on an overseas trip. If there was an iota of doubt about her electoral prospects, it was put to rest by YS Jaganmohan Reddy, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, and president of the YSR Congress Party announcing his support for her candidature on Friday. Questions have often been raised about the relevance of a titular head of state, the President, in a parliamentary democracy which is turning increasingly “presidential” in its character over the years. Almost always handpicked by the ruling party, the President is seen to be beholden to the Prime Minister obliged to sign along the dotted line set by the government. The rare instances of friction or standoff in the past have not gone in favour of the occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Thus, one may legitimately ask if the role of the President is merely ornamental with the occasional tokenism of choosing a lady or member of a minority community. So, is the nomination of a tribal woman only of symbolic value? That there is an element of virtue signalling cannot be denied. There are also political dividends to be reaped. But that is a part and parcel of democracy. No wonder the election of America’s first black President makes waves around the world, as indeed the fact that it did not have a single woman president in its over two hundred years of history raises many eyebrows. Also, not for nothing, do psephologists, sociologists and political analysts split hairs over caste and religious composition of electorates as well governments not just in India but across the world. However, it is not lip service and optics alone. There is a definite message of “inclusive politics” that cannot also be missed. *** Also Read Explained: The Santhal tribe that NDA presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu belongs to Droupadi Murmu: From a life full of struggles to becoming the first tribal woman nominated for president Presidential poll: BJP names former Jharkhand governor Droupadi Murmu as its candidate Presidential polls: Why BJP’s choice of Droupadi Murmu has put Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in a fix *** According to the 2011 Census, the tribal population in India was 104 million, constituting 8.6 per cent of the country's population, up from 8.2 per cent in the 2001 Census. Over 40 per cent of the tribal population resides in the states of the North East and eastern India. Mainstreaming and economic development of the North East has been a stated priority of the present government articulated as its “Look East” policy. The Prime Minister has often emphasised the need for bringing eastern India — which has remained an economic laggard in comparison to the rest of India — up to speed. This is part of walking the talk to raise the profile of the region in our collective national consciousness. But there are also stereotypes to be broken. There is a general perception that the majority of tribals hail from the East. Whereas, larger states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat contribute almost equal number of tribals. It may come as a surprise that states deep down in the South, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, have over 10 million tribal people. Droupadi Murmu’s name will resonate among them too. That is why even parties who are not part of the NDA are bound to feel pangs of conscience in voting against her. It is also the reason why patronising and chauvinistic comments about her by the Opposition candidate, Yashwant Sinha, have not gone down well with the public. That brings us back to the role of the President in a functional democracy. A constitutional Head of State is not expected to interfere, or even have an active oversight, in the regular working of an elected government. The President is ordinarily bound by the advice of the Council of Ministers. In problematic cases she may either return a bill or ordinance for reconsideration. The real test for a President comes at the time of a constitutional crisis. In such a situation the President must exercise her independent judgement following the Constitution in letter and spirit. In extreme situations she may refer it to the Supreme Court for advice. Most commonly this occurs during government formation when the President exercises her prerogative. Keeping in mind such a contingency the ruling dispensation endeavours to elect a President more aligned to its own interests. However, there can never be any guarantee because a person in such a high office is generally mindful of how she will be judged in posterity. Hence, in 70 years of the Indian Republic the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister has not always been harmonious and there are several instances of standoff and strain. As in any relationship, much depends on the personalities of individuals. Droupadi Murmu is known to be a woman of substance who has come up through trying circumstances. A teacher by profession, she lost her husband and two sons early in life and struggled to bring up her daughter. Therefore, she is known to have a mind of her own and displayed a strong sense of self-confident integrity during her stint as a minister and later as the Governor of Jharkhand. In some ways the Prime Minister shares her values having himself risen from very humble roots. Narendra Modi passed his acid test of developing a positive working relation with the President during the tenure of Pranab Mukherjee. President Mukherjee was a dyed in wool Congressman so there were apprehensions of how the two will get along. Proving the sceptics wrong they struck an excellent rapport and worked in perfect tandem as the Heads of State and government. The camaraderie continued even after he demitted office. The same healthy mutual respect between the President and Prime Minister was visible in the last five years of President Ramnath Kovind. Though President Kovind and the Prime Minister came from the same political party — and in many ways, as in the case of Droupadi Murmu, was Modi’s choice — they were most dignified in their conduct with each other. Narendra Modi has always been a champion of women power. He has set examples by having a large number of women in his government and appointing them in critical positions like the Union Finance Minister. Similarly, without doubt, Droupadi Murmu shall stand as a beacon of empowerment and inclusivity around the world. The author is a current affairs commentator, marketer, blogger and leadership coach, who tweets at @SandipGhose. Views expressed are personal. Read all the Latest News , Trending News ,  Cricket News , Bollywood News , India News and Entertainment News here. Follow us on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram .

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