India’s first tribal president set to be sworn in

Draupadi Murmu is India’s first female tribal president

Draupadi Murmu, a tribal politician elected as India’s new president, is due to be sworn in on Monday.

A candidate of the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party, the 64-year-old former teacher hails from Odisha (Orissa) state and served as the state’s governor.

Mrs. Murmu is the first tribal leader in the country to hold the highest position.

The president in India is the head of state, but does not exercise executive power.

He is elected by members of both houses of parliament and of the state and federally administered union territory legislatures.

Ms Murmu recorded a comfortable victory against the opposition candidate – veteran politician Yashwant Sinha. Mr Sinha, who was a senior minister in the BJP government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the 1990s and early 2000s, is now a vocal critic of the party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ms Murmu replaces outgoing President Ram Nath Kovind, whose term ended on July 24.

Ms. Murmu was chosen as the presidential candidate after a detailed discussion of 20 names that the BJP and its allies had considered.

She said she learned of her nomination on television and was “surprised” and “delighted” by the news.

“As a tribal woman from the remote district of Mayurbhanj, I had not thought of becoming a candidate for the top job,” she told reporters after learning of her nomination.

Political leaders in Odisha had hailed her appointment, describing her as a “daughter from the ground”.

Her party colleague in the state, Kabi Vishnu Satpathy, who has known her since the 1980s, describes her as a “direct and simple” person.

“A compassionate woman, she is good-hearted, without arrogance, without air. She does not show off, mixes freely with people and is humble and down to earth. As a politician, she knew how to bring people along.”

Draupadi Murmu with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Draupadi Murmu was chosen from 20 names under consideration, BJP says

In August, Indian lawmakers will also vote to select the country’s vice president.

The BJP has announced Jagdeep Dhankar – a senior leader who was governor of West Bengal state – as its candidate. The opposition introduces Margaret Alva, a congressional veteran who has served several times as a federal cabinet minister.

Who is Draupadi Murmu?

Ms Murmu came into the limelight in 2017 when it was rumored that the BJP was considering her name for the presidential election that year. She was then Governor of the State of Jharkhand.

Born in 1958 in Baidaposi village of Mayurbhanj district, Ms. Murmu belongs to the Santhal community, one of India’s largest tribal groups.

The daughter of a village council chief, she studied at Ramadevi Women’s College in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.

Journalist and activist Nigamananda Patnaik, who has known her since 1980, explains that Ms. Murmu began her studies at the school in her village.

“When she was a child, her father took her to the nearby town of Rairangpur when a government minister from Odisha, Kartik Majhi, was visiting. Suddenly, she ran onto the stage, waving her school certificate, and told the Minister that she wanted to study in Bhubaneswar.”

The minister was so impressed with the little girl’s enthusiasm that he ordered his staff to help secure her a place in a public school in the state capital, Ms Patnaik said.

Starting her career as a government clerk in Odisha, Ms. Murmu served as a junior assistant in the Irrigation and Power Department from 1979 to 1983.

After quitting her job in Bhubaneswar and returning to Rairangpur to care for her family at the insistence of her mother-in-law, she took a job as a teacher at the Sri Aurobindo Integral School.

“But she refused to accept a salary. The school only paid for her rickshaw ticket. She said it was not a job, but a public service. She said her husband’s salary , a bank officer, was enough to support the family,” says Ms. Patnaik.

Her political career started in 1997 when she was elected as a councilor in local elections in Rairangpur. She was often seen personally supervising sewerage work in the city, standing in the sun while sewers were cleared and rubbish cleared away.

As a member of the BJP, she was elected to the state assembly twice – in 2000 and 2009 – from the seat of Rairangpur.

President Pranab Mukherjee, Governor Draupadi Murmu and Chief Minister of Jharkhand Raghubar Das during the inauguration of Diamond Jubilee celebrations and 26th convocation of Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra on January 10, 2016 in Ranchi, India India.

In 2015, Ms. Murmu was appointed as the first female Governor of Jharkhand State.

From 2000 to 2004, she served as a minister in the coalition government of the state, led by Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal party. First in charge of trade and transport, she then took charge of the fisheries and animal resources portfolios.

From 2006 to 2009, Ms Murmu served as chairwoman of the BJP’s state wing for “scheduled tribes” – tribal communities recognized by India’s constitution as socially and economically disadvantaged.

Her life took a tragic turn in 2009 when she lost her eldest son under mysterious circumstances. A few years later, she also lost her second son and her husband.

“She was heartbroken,” Mr Satpathy said. “She cried inconsolably every time we met. She used to say, ‘there’s nothing left in my life,'” he added.

But she pulled herself together and in 2015 she was named the first female governor of the neighboring state of Jharkhand. She held the position for six years until July 2021.

According to BBC Hindi’s Ravi Prakash in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, Ms Murmu was appreciated during her tenure for keeping the governor’s office open to people from all walks of life.

She has also repeatedly made news for breaking protocol – such as when she visited Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at his home or went with a delegation to meet the Minister of Railways to lobby for the expansion of rail services to Mayurbhanj, his home district.

“Both incidents were seen as a breach of protocol. But she didn’t care,” says Rajkishore Das, her political mentor.

Mr Das adds that the most remarkable part of Ms Murmu’s personality “is her serenity in happy and sad times and her stoicism in the face of tragedy”.

“The way she came together and continued to work for the people even after multiple tragedies in her family speaks volumes about her remarkable strength of character.”