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Editorial; In honor of India’s 15th President, Droupadi Murmu

The election of Droupadi Murmu as India’s 15th President is rich in symbolism. Ms. Murmu becomes the second woman to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the 75th year of the country’s independence, and the first member of a tribal community to do so. The focus is on her Santhal tribe membership. She rose through the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and demonstrated her independence as Governor of Jharkhand. Her election to the country’s highest office comes 101 years after two tribespeople were elected to legislative bodies in colonial India.

The Republic’s founding figures were acutely aware of the tribespeople’s precarious position and made special provisions such as the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution. Jaipal Singh Munda, a sportsman and tribal leader, was a prominent member of the Constituent Assembly who articulated tribespeople’s fears and hopes forcefully. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were formed in 2000 to give more focused attention to the concentrated tribal population in these regions. In 2006, Congress passed the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. Ms. Murmu’s election is a watershed moment in the journey of tribal empowerment, but she is not bound by her ethnicity. It is a proud moment for India.

This is a moment of political triumph for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Opposition. Mr. Modi has once again demonstrated his ability to constantly script invigorating politics by gauging the political aspirations of marginalized communities and enlisting them for Hindutva politics, paving the way for a tribal woman to succeed a Dalit in the highest office. The elevation of Ms. Murmu has elated tribespeople across the country, and this could translate into significant electoral gains for the BJP in the coming days. Her candidacy divided the opposition, as many Shiv Sena and JMM members supported her.

Tribespeople has high hopes for Ms. Murmu’s rise to power, but those hopes will be realised only if the Modi administration backs up its symbolism with substance. This is the right time to address the concerns raised by many tribal activists, such as a systematic erosion of tribal protections, police harassment and suppression, and a general state intolerance of tribal autonomy. Ms. Murmu may have limited political clout, but she has become an inspiration to all disadvantaged groups in society, including women, tribals, and the poor in general. To make her election more meaningful, state policy must also bend toward justice and equity for all. Ms. Murmu’s election should not be used as an excuse to do nothing to address the broader disempowerment of tribal people.



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