The election of Droupadi Murmu, a tribal woman, as President of India suggests, at least symbolically, that even people from the most deprived sections of the country may realistically have the same aspirations as those born in better circumstances.
This is not to say that a woman tribal as President will produce such ripple effects as to transform the socioeconomic landscape, and act as an enabler for the poor. Far-reaching changes need multiple levers operating in a connected way. However, in a diverse country such as ours, the election of a tribal to the country’s highest constitutional office may be seen as a good in itself. It confers legitimacy to the system we chose upon emerging from colonial rule, and also deepens the sense of democracy.
To a considerable degree, the prospects of positive change come down to the individual. If Ms Murmu acts as the custodian of the Constitution in the true sense of the word, and not only in a technical or formal way, she would have done enough. That would send a message down the line and may result in benefits and ameliorative action in favour of those in need.
Not every President has lived up to the expectation of guarding the values enshrined in the Constitution. Indeed, some have been content to sign on the dotted line. True, the President must eventually sign as per the wishes of the council of ministers, or return a bill for reconsideration of Parliament only to sign it if Parliament does not amend its stance.
However, the mere fact of the President tendering advice, and not appending her signature as demanded, sends off messages to the political system as a whole and to the electorate. It is primarily in that sense that the Indian President does not have to be a rubber stamp. Going a step further, it may even be said that India can do without a rubber stamp President.
In the case of Ms Murmu, she has been a part of the BJP (and RSS) universe from an early age and owes her political rise to that factor in a very basic way, her personal abilities notwithstanding. She obviously has ideological commitments. Can she rise above these if the situation demands? That is a question that cannot be answered now. However, espousing the cause of her own tribal community as well as that of other poor people from public forums is likely to go a long way to help the cause of India.
There is a dimension of democratic life that goes beyond the socioeconomic. This has to do with the wider morality of things, with political ethic, with the idea of justice in a philosophic sense. A good President should adhere to these too as she endeavours to rise above humdrum politics. We extend our good wishes to President-elect Murmu to be on the side of the people and the Constitution....