It is often said about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his senior colleague Amit Shah, ably backed by Party President J P Nadda, that none of their key decisions is free from strategic thinking. They are seasoned politicians and, unsurprisingly, a larger political game plan always guides their decisions. However, one must understand that social justice is at the centre of their politics. This explains the latest decision of the BJP/NDA to nominate Droupadi Murmu as the presidential candidate and Jagdeep Dhankhar as the nominee for the post of vice-president.
In Droupadi Murmu, a senior and experienced leader from Odisha and only in her mid-sixties, the nation is set to get its first woman president from the tribal community. Also, the first one from Odisha. Her predecessor, Ramnath Kovind, too was the first Scheduled Caste leader from Uttar Pradesh to rise to the highest position. During its first term in office, the NDA ensured a regional North-South balance with Ramnath Kovind and Venkaiah Naidu. This time, it is the East-West balance, with Droupadi Murmu from the east and Jagdeep Dhankhar from the western state of Rajasthan.
However, next Monday, when Droupadi Murmu is sworn in as president of India, history will witness different styles of politics—politics of social and gender justice of the BJP/NDA and politics of total bankruptcy of the combined opposition.
Recently, a senior leader of Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, Prakash Ambedkar, rightly expressed his anguish over the sheer lack of direction displayed by the combined opposition. He said that the Congress party completely lacks acumen and that the party cannot match the political vision displayed by the Modi-Shah-Nadda combine and other NDA leaders in selecting Droupadi Murmu.
Though Yashwant Sinha is Droupadi Murmu’s opponent, it is natural that people will compare her to Margaret Alva, the 80-year-old vice-presidential candidate of the combined opposition. The difference is stark. Murmu comes from the humblest of backgrounds. Alva is a dynast who hails from a privileged family and both her parents were MPs in the past. Murmu represents Antyodaya, the movement for prioritising the most deprived for empowerment. In contrast, Alva’s candidature reinforces the point that dynasty-driven parties prefer dynasty. However, what is more noteworthy here is the Modi government’s approach to taking social and gender justice beyond tokenism. Remarkably, the PM minced no words while bringing to the people’s notice the contradictory and hypocritical stance many take towards their sons and daughters.
When parents are prepared to impose restrictions on their daughters, “why are they unwilling to impose them on their sons”, he asked in one of his Independence Day addresses. With the same bluntness, he pointed out: “Parents ask their daughters hundreds of questions, but have any parents ever dared to ask their son where he is going, why he is going out, who his friends are. … try to do this with your sons, try to ask such questions of them. … As a member of society, as parents, we also have some responsibilities.” Notably, long before asking the people for an attitudinal change, the Modi government reposed its confidence in women’s power in multiple ways. The Prime Minister is convinced that women can play leadership roles more effectively. In Gujarat, when he was the Chief Minister, he made it a point to give women the charge of village water distribution committees. This ensured frictionless implementation. It was in Gujarat that he launched the Chiranjeevi Yojana (CY) way back in 2007 to promote institutional deliveries. With a renewed emphasis on the promotion of institutional deliveries through more incentives and by plugging loopholes in centrally funded Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), the share of India’s institutional deliveries increased to 88.6% in 2019–2021 (National Family Health Survey 5) from 40.8% in 2005–06 (NHFS 3).
The Notion of Equality has at least three fundamentals—Equality of Security, Dignity and also of Opportunities. Combining financial security and social dignity, the Modi government ensured women’s participation in domestic financial decisions by making them owners of houses constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana. Today, over two crore houses constructed under the PMAY are in the names of women.
More than 80% of the loans disbursed under the “Standup India” programme are also in the names of women. Under the Mudra Yojana, the number of women beneficiaries stands at about 70%. Conscious of the key role of women in early childhood care, the government increased maternity leave for women from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, brought in strict laws for their safety at the workplace and provision of capital punishment for rape. Also noteworthy is that today the country is opening up greater roles for girls in the defence services by giving a green signal for their admission in Sainik Schools.
All this makes the ascendancy of Droupadi Murmu, now our president-designate, reflective of the empowered woman of New India. Droupadi of the Mahabharata was a fighter who sacrificed a lot for the sake of her family.
In the 21st century, we have a new Droupadi who also struggled a lot, went through many hardships, and braved the loss of near and dear ones but always emerged victorious through resoluteness and commitment. She symbolises a fight-to-win spirit. Her victory symbolises a tribute to all leaders of tribal communities who have always worked hard to uphold the traditions, heritage and identity of the Scheduled Tribes. From Birsa Munda to Tantya Bhil, from Umaji Naik of Maharashtra to Tirot Singh of Meghalaya, from Gunda Dhur of Chhattisgarh to Tilka Manjhi of Bihar, the Droupadi Murmu presidency is a statement of the nation’s gratitude to all such freedom fighters from the tribal communities.
President, ICCR and senior BJP leader