Friday, August 19th, 2022 17:05:53

Modi’s Empowering Politics

By Prakash Nanda
Updated: August 1, 2022 5:49 pm

On assuming the post of President of India,  Ms. Draupai Murmu has become the first tribal lady and first from the eastern state of Odisha in the highest constitutional position in the country. It is worth remembering some of what she said while addressing the parliamentarians of the country :

“It is my great privilege to be given this responsibility at such a historic time when India is engaged with full vigour in realising its vision for the next 25 years.

“I also happen to be the first President of the country who was born in independent India.

“We have to work at a fast pace in this Amritkal to fulfil the expectations of our freedom fighters from the citizens of independent India.

“In these 25 years, the path to attain the goals of Amritkal will proceed on two tracks – Sabka Prayas aur Sabka Kartavya (everyone’s effort and everyone’s duty).

“I started my journey of life from a small tribal village in Odisha in the eastern part of the country. From the background that I come from, it was like a dream for me to get elementary education. But despite many obstacles, my determination remained strong and I became the first daughter of my village to go to college.

“I belong to a tribal society. I have got the opportunity to rise from serving as a ward councillor to becoming the President of India. This is the greatness of India, the mother of democracy.

“It is a tribute to the power of our democracy that a daughter born in a poor house in a remote tribal area can reach the highest constitutional position in India.

“That I attained the post of President is not my personal achievement, it is the achievement of every poor person in India.

“My election is a proof of the fact that the poor in India can have dreams and fulfil them too.

“And it is a matter of great satisfaction for me that those who have been deprived for centuries and those who have been denied the benefits of development, those poor, downtrodden, backwards and tribals are seeing their reflection in me.

“This election of mine has the blessings of the poor of the country. And it reflects the dreams and potential of crores of women and daughters of the country.

“This election of mine also shows the courage of today’s youth of India who are ready to walk on new paths and shun the beaten tracks.

“Today I feel proud to lead such a progressive India. Today, I assure all fellow citizens, especially the youth of India and the women of India that their interests will be paramount for me while working in this position.”

Now that she is the President of India, she represents all Indians, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, locality and material status. But it is worth mentioning how she was “chosen” for the post by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP).

While marking  the first-ever ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas’ or Tribal Pride Day, Prime Minister Modi on 15 November last year had reached out to tribal people, inaugurating the Birsa Munda museum in Ranchi, Jharkhand, as well as a slew of welfare schemes in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

The Prime Minister  said that as the country celebrated 75 years of Independence next year, it had been decided to honour the contributions of tribal people. “For this, a historic decision has been taken that from today, every year the country will celebrate 15 November, that is, the birth anniversary of Bhagwan Birsa Munda as ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas,” he stated.

Early this year, Modi launched multiple key initiatives for the welfare of “Janjatiya community” (tribes)  at “Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas Mahasammelan” in Madhya Pradesh.  He launched the ‘Ration Aapke Gram’ scheme in Madhya Pradesh. He also launched the Madhya Pradesh Sickle Cell Mission. He laid the foundation of 50 Eklavya Model Residential Schools across the country. “For the first time in the country after independence, on such a large scale, the art-culture of the entire country’s tribal society, their contribution to the freedom movement and nation building is being remembered and honored with pride,” the Prime Minister said, adding that as “the country is celebrating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, commemorating 75 years of India’s independence, with freedom struggle, and ideas, achievements, actions and resolve at 75, are the five pillars of the 75 week-long celebrations,  it is our duty to bring the inspiring stories of tribal heroes and heroines in the freedom struggle before the country and to introduce them to the new generation. During the period of slavery, there were many struggles against foreign rule including Khasi-Garo movement, Mizo movement, Kol movement, etc.

Little did the political analysts realize that in stating all this, Prime Minister Modi was hinting of  doing something really big this year, the golden jubilee year of our independence. I think the Prime Minister had made up his mind last year that India’s new President on the golden jubilee year of independence would be a tribal.

So, it was not exactly a typical Modi type  decision – going against the dominant trend and throwing up a surprise, and in the process outfoxing all the political adversaries – that Ms Draupadi Murmu from Odisha would  be India’s next President. I think that we political analysts failed in reading what was there in the mind of the Prime Minister.

With Modi’s choice of Ms. Murmu, opposition sponsored candidate  for the post of President,  Mr. Yashwant Sinha, a person with vast bureaucratic and political experience, which saw him being the country’s finance and external affairs minister and a person who is arguably one of the staunchest  supporters turned critics ( because Modi did not entrust  him with any high positions) of the Prime Minister ,  “also ran” for the sake of formality. In fact, the opposition’s calculation of wooing away Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also  boomeranged. On the other hand, in Jharkhand, the ruling JMM, one of opposition-alliance’s key constituents, broke ranks and supported Ms. Murmu, who was a former Governor of the state under the plea that a tribes-dominated state could not vote against someone who was going to be the first tribal of the country to occupy the highest    constitutional office of the country, situated in Delhi’s Raisina Hills.

Ms. Murmu is the second woman President , the first one being the late Pratibha Patil. At a time when all over the world , there are demands for woman-empowerment, including political representation, a woman in India  being promoted by Prime Minister Modi has been a deft political move.

Above all , the choice of  Ms. Murmu is Modi’s master stroke as far as the social engineering of the ruling BJP is concerned. Under Modi’s supreme leadership,  the party is no longer perceived to be urban-centric and upper caste – dominated. In fact, the BJP today is thriving because of its rapidly expanding rural base, with the support of women, extremely backward castes(EBC), Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

It may be noted that  out of the total 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, 47 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. And Modi, arguably the shredewest and the number one  visionary  politician  of India today,  knows the importance of wooing them. The BJP under his leadership is precisely doing that. It is not only highlighting the series of empowering and anti-poverty welfare measures that the Modi government has undertaken in the last 10 years in the hitherto considered remote tribal areas of the country but also emphasizing  the sense of honour that must run through every tribal of India. No wonder  why as a political party the BJP is best connected to the tribal community today.  Ms. Draupadi Murmu as the country’s President will make this bond only stronger.

Incidentally, the Presidential election in India takes place the year Modi’s home state Gujarat goes for Assembly polls. When in 2017, the Prime Miniter chose the then Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind , a Dalit leader as the Presidential candidate, the Gujarat BJP called him a leader of the Koli community, which is classified under the OBC category in the state, and said that his nomination as the NDA’s Presidential candidate was “very important for Gujarat”. The party sent out pictures of Kovind being felicitated at a Koli community event in the state, and issued a release mentioning that Koli and Thakor communities constitute more than 20 per cent of the state’s population.

This year, with the choice of  Ms. Murmu as the country’s next president, the BJP can legitimately claim in Gujarat that the  tribal community, for whom 27 seats are reserved in the 182-member assembly, is being politically empowered by the Prime Minister. This message will remain equally relevant when Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya, all home to a significant number of tribals, go to polls next year.


By Prakash Nanda

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