Draupadi Murmu. (Wikimedia Commons)
New Delhi: The BJP on Tuesday named Droupadi Murmu, former Jharkhand governor and prominent tribal community leader, as the NDA’s nominee for the presidential election, to be pitted against former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, the "unanimous" candidate of the Opposition camp.
Born in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, Murmu, who began her career as a teacher, belongs to the Santhal community. With nearly 50 per cent of the total votes in the Electoral College for the Presidential poll stacked in favour of the NDA, the country is all set to get its first tribal woman in the highest constitutional post. Tribals are numerically significant in states like Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and the northeastern states, among others including Telangana
Ms Murmu’s name was finalised at a meeting of the BJP parliamentary board here on Tuesday, which was also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah and party chief J.P. Nadda, among others.
"Smt Droupadi Murmu Ji has devoted her life to serving society and empowering the poor, downtrodden as well as the marginalised. She has rich administrative experience and had an outstanding gubernatorial tenure. I am confident she will be a great President of our nation… Millions of people, especially those who have experienced poverty and faced hardships, derive great strength from the life of Smt Droupadi Murmu Ji. Her understanding of policy matters and compassionate nature will greatly benefit our country," tweeted Modi.
Speaking to this newspaper shortly afterwards, Murmu said: "I never expected my name to be announced as the NDA’s presidential candidate. I thank the BJP parliamentary board for choosing me for this position. I will try to deliver up to the expectations of the people of my country. Since I have worked in the post of Governor, I don’t think there will be any difficulty for me to discharge my duties as the President of India."
Murmu entered Odisha’s politics in 1997. After serving as vice-president of the BJP Scheduled Tribes Morcha, Murmu was elected MLA twice from Rairangpur, in 2000 and 2009. She was a minister in the BJD-BJP coalition government in Odisha, and held the commerce and transport portfolios, and then the fisheries and animal resources department. She was also Jharkhand's first woman Governor.
While the BJP is in a comfortable position of getting its nominee elected as the successor of President Ram Nath Kovind, it is also hopeful of getting the support of non-NDA, non-UPA parties like Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRC and the AIADMK. The BJP’s choice of presidential candidate is also likely to put pressure on the JMM, which runs Jharkhand’s government as an ally of the Congress, as the state is dominated by the tribal community.
Sources said the BJP’s key ally, JD(U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, was informed about the BJP’s choice before Nadda officially announced Murmu’s candidature at a press conference. The JD(U) has earlier sided with the non-NDA candidates on two previous occasions.
"The BJP parliamentary board discussed 20 names for the presidential nominee, (and) it was decided to pick someone from east India, a tribal and a woman… For the first time, preference has been given to a woman tribal candidate. We announce Droupadi Murmu as the NDA’s candidate for the coming presidential elections," said Nadda while addressing the press conference after the meeting on Tuesday evening.
The BJP parliamentary board meeting was attended by Union ministers Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at the party headquarters here.
Speculation is rife that Murmu could file her nomination before the Prime Minister leaves for Germany to attend the G-7 Summit. Many senior BJP leaders, including Union ministers and some chief ministers, have been asked to remain in the national capital on June 24 and 25. The last date for filing the nomination is June 29, and the election is due to be held on July 18.