By Poonam I Kaushish
This is a story which has not only made India proud but is a compelling and inspirational tale of overcoming adverse circumstances, personal setbacks, struggle, determination and success in the face of great odds, mirrors the trajectory of our democracy, testifies to its uplifting possibilities and represents the hope and promise of New India.
A Santhali tribal woman’s journey from Odisha’s remote poverty stricken Rairangpur to Delhi’s Raisina Hill to the highest Constitutional post is a remarkable testimony to the deepening roots of Indian democracy. When a poor woman and nation partake and complete each other’s story. Yes I am talking of Droupadi Murmu India’s 15 second Madam President.
The youngest First Citizen Murmu 64, nee Puti Tudu grew up in a small village where even getting primary education was like a dream and went on to become the first person from her village to graduate college.Starting out as a teacher Murmu joined BJP in 1997 and began her arduous trek from councilor to two-term MLA, Minister in Odisha twice over and first woman Jharkhand Governor 2015-2021.
Her political efficacy and electoral acumen have helped push politics of the marginalised from the edges of tokenism to mainstream. “The country’s deprived, poor, Dalits and tribals can see their reflection in me. It shows every poor person can not only dream but also fulfil their aspirations,” she asserted in her first speech.
Her fortitude and courage can be gauged from how she rose from the ashes of personal tragedy when her eldest son died in 2009 leaving her shattered, broken and depressed taking recourse in yoga and meditation. In 2013 she lost her younger son and subsequently, her brother and mother. “I have encountered tsunami in my life and seen three deaths of my family members in a span of six months followed by my husband…There was a time when I thought I might die anytime,” she said.
Politically, her nomination was perceived as a “political masterstroke” which sowed disarray in Opposition ranks, signifying BJP’s sustained efforts to cement its base in the tribal heartland, incorporate tribal communities, both politically and culturally, bring more women from rural and marginalized backgrounds into its ideological fold, burnish its credentials of representation and relentless efforts to expand its social base to achieve social cohesion and become the Party of downtrodden.
Murmu’s win has broken Opposition’s fragile unity even before they could bandy together for this poll along-with puncturing their ambitions. Her victory exposes disarray, inherent contradictions, ideological vacillation, littleness and the absence of big ideas to take on the national hegemon and underlines that on issues which have no material bearing on them politically they still cannot cohabit. Borne out by over 17 MPs and 126 MLAs cross voting for her.
Consequently, in this “battle of ideologies for a new India” secular vs communal, the Opposition, has not only lost real time but also symbolically. Often the 18-odd Parties have been reactive exposing their dithering inertia only to be overtaken and out-smarted by a restless over-active Saffron Sangh.
Amidst this, an Adivasi woman’s election as President is one for hopeful reflection on democracy which despite a corroding compact between politicians and their voters keeps alive the promise of dignity to the marginalised. That a representative of 100 million strong community comprising 9% which battles structural inequalities can be elevated as Rashtrapati shows that despite setbacks democracy is firmly entrenched.
Murmu would do well to spotlight the serious decline in public standards of morality, honesty and integrity and warn of the pitfalls ahead. Wherein, a feeling should not be encouraged that no change can be brought about, except by violent disorders. Thereby, we make the prospect of revolution inescapable by acquiescing in such conduct. As dishonesty creeps into every side of public life, we should beware and bring about suitable alternations in our life.
True, the office of President is circumscribed by its Constitutional limits. As Head of State the President acts on the advice of his Council of Ministers. He has “the right to be consulted, the right to warn and right to encourage”. Among other things, he could always exercise his judgment and ask for any decision to be reconsidered by the Government
The President is thus empowered to uphold the Constitution and so also established conventions by asking questions —- or by delaying signing of any proclamation or other papers till the authorities satisfy him fully. He could put pertinent questions to the Centre before signing any document and demand full satisfaction. There is no time limit for him. Thus, he could be wholly Constitutional and yet act impartially, objectively and independently.
As the country celebrates its 75th year of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav India 2022 is not the India of 1947. Parliamentary democracy has degenerated into a feudal power brokers’ oligarchy. Deep schisms between the Government and Opposition, distrust, disharmony topped by communalism, casteism and corruption, money and muscle together with the collapse of the system, herald the need for a new dawn. In this milieu the President’s role has become critical and urgent.
All in all, the new President will need to cement a cohesive society and address questions vital to the healthy growth of India’s democracy. It needs to be remembered that the President is “not a ceremonial head or one of the expensive futilities created by the Constitution”. Nor is he a glorified cipher as he is made out to be. Madam President needs to know that as an elected Head of State she has a bigger role to play than hereditary monarchs.
Her election goes beyond the politics of representation and tokenism which the country has had enough of and which hold out zero benefits for people. One hopes Madam President will give all it takes to balance the ever-growing contradiction within our polity, fulfill her Constitutional obligations without fear or favour in the swirl of political currents alongside the tumult and polarisation. She has a moral duty to perform when decisions are not taken in the interest of the people.
All eyes are on First Citizen Murmu will she serve as a role model, reassuring figure embodying stability, spirit and unified core of India? Will she leave behind a legacy that does justice to the powerful promise of the moment of her elevation or a rubber stamp? Recall Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: Public opinion is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who moulds public opinion goes deeper than he who enacts statues or pronounces decision.” — INFA