The 15th President

Droupadi Murmu, the 15th President of India, will be the first person from a tribal background to take the top office. Incidentally, she is just the second woman, after Pratibha Patil, to take over the role. Quite expectedly, celebrations erupted in the saffron camp after her victory. But it was a foregone conclusion that she would win with huge margins in a situation where the Opposition looks directionless. And Prime Minister Modi lost no time to hail the event as historic as he usually does on such occasions. “India Scripts History”! That was how Modi reacted. In truth Murmu’s candidature; many see in it a master stroke by Modi to influence 2024 parliamentary polls, created a divide in Opposition. They are now more disunited than before. There were cross-voting in 18 states, making it easy for Murmu to hit the target. The JMM in Jharkhand extended support to Murmu because of her tribal credentials. She served as a governor of Jharkhand from 2015 to 2021, again the first tribal woman to do so. Earlier she was a minister in the BJD-BJP government in Odisha and held the fisheries, animal resource development, commerce and transport portfolios. No doubt she is an old-timer of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). How Modi wants to empower tribal women by elevating one person to the top post of India is anything but ludicrous. Murmu’s elevation to presidency is not going to change the ground reality in Chattishgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and other areas where tribals are resisting the government’s attempts to handover their lands to corporate mining tycoons, both domestic and foreign. They are being brutally oppressed by police and para-military forces and evicted from their homes forcibly. They are branded as maoists. A number of social justice activists advocating their rights are languishing in jails. This is the tribal reality in Modi’s India. When Ram Nath Kovind was elected president the occasion was hailed by the saffron brigade as a great achievement for the Dalits because he was from the Dalit community. But Kovid’s appointment couldn’t stop the repression of Dalits; they are being systematically discriminated against in every sphere of social and economic life. Murmu or no Murmu persecution of tribals and Dalits will continue as usual. This gimmickry was tried by Congress as well. President Zail Singh was a Sikh but he was a silent spectator when the Indian army stormed the Golden temple in June 1984 following reporting of Khalistanis stockpiling weapons inside the temple complex.

The all important presidential election has exposed once again how fragile is opposition unity. Many tribal and minority community MPs cutting across party lines voted for Murmu. One Congress MLA in Odisha openly defied the party mandate.

In his farewell address to the nation the out-going president Ram Nath Kovind said the government’s new education policy (NEP) would go a long way in helping young Indians to connect with their heritage and also find their feet in the 21st century. But NEP has already crippled the very core of India’s education system, depriving the socially and economically disadvantaged section of society, particularly Dalits and tribals, of getting quality education. Mr Kovind in his speech had special emphasis on healthcare. In reality India’s crumbling health-care delivery coupled with massive privatisation of health business aggravated the Covid crisis.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to accommodate Dalits and tribals into its fold for long by creating a creamy layer. And they have succeeded to some extent. But their gambit with the minority community has failed. Then they have a strategy to win elections without minority votes by way of communal polarisation.

The Opposition being a divided force can hardly offer any effective challenge to the BJP. The Congress-led united progressive alliance is in a shambles. There are so many burning issues affecting the livelihoods of common people, particularly after the recent expansion of GST net, and yet the opposition parties are reluctant to take to streets. Congress is busy to protect Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi from the onslaught of ED. For one thing, blatant and rampant weaponisation of ED and other central agencies, including the office of governor against the Opposition mocks at what they call the biggest democracy of the world. Sporadic general strikes by the left are no answer to the saffron bulldozer. The Indian Medical Association has opposed the imposition of 5 percent goods and services tax on hospital bed rent, saying it is tantamount to profiteering from the suffering of the sick. But opposition parties find no reason to agitate over it. And yet they think people will vote for them. The strategy of inaction won’t do.


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Vol 55, No. 6, Aug 7 - 13, 2022