By Syed Ali Mujtaba
With more than 48% of the votes from the Electoral College under the BJP’s kitty, the victory of its Presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu is a foregone conclusion. Murmu is an Adivasi politician from Orissa who served as Governor of Jharkhand from 2015 to 2021. Her biggest credentials, she remains a BJP confide and its political aid.
Droupadi Murmu’s becoming the President of India has opened the lid from the cane of worms and there are many questions begging attention. Most of these questions rally around her aborigine origin, her community, Adivasi/ Santha’sl distinct identity, the BJP/RSS’s deliberate attempt to assimilate the Adivasi community into the Hindu fold, and finally the dignity of the office of the President of India.
The Santhals or Adivasis are aborigines of India who belong to the forest. They live on the bounties of Mother Nature and have their own form of beliefs and practices. They do not have any organized form of religious belief system and worship Mother Nature. Santhals face the problem of extinction due to diminishing green reserves due to the wanton destruction of forests. The human encroachment on the forest land raises concerns of Santhals or Adivasis’ displacement from their natural habitat. Environmental issues like mining and construction of dams and issues like health and nutrition dog the Santhals/Adivasis community of India.
The most unfortunate part about Santhals/Adivasis are they have not yet produced any B.R. Ambedkar from their rank and there is no one to raise their demands or fight for their rights.
Droupadi Murmu who rose from the ranks of the Adivasi community was expected to champion her community cause but she preferred to espouse the Hindutva ideals than to her own moorings. This is testimony to the fact that she has mortgaged her identity to the anti-Adivasi forces and she has preferred to promote Brahminical agenda at the expense of her community. She would be the first Adivasi President of India who is more inclined to promote the BJPs agenda rather than flagging the cause of the Adivasi community.
There are certain questions being raised even before Droupadi Murmu becomes the 15th President of India. These questions center on her race and religion and are in conflict with the BJP’s ideology that is hogging the limelight.
The first poser is; whether Murmu is an Adivasis or a Hindu. This question is raised because Adivasis are generally understood to be animists and are not Hindus. They follow a different set of beliefs and practices and worship gods that are different from the followers of Sanatan Dharma. So Murmu’s acceptance to become a BJP candidate is an affirmation that adheres to the ideas of the RSS that Adivasis are essentially Hindus?
The second poser to Murmu is whether she subscribes to the RSS nomenclature of Adivasis as ‘Vanvasis’, or forest-dwellers. Murmu by accepting to be the BJP’s candidate for Presidency has accepted that her community can be called ‘Vanvasis’ and not Adivasis. There is a catch in this, because ‘Vanvasis’ is an extension of Sanatan Dharma, while Adivasis are aborigines. They are separate communities and Adivasis are different from the organized form of belief in the Hindu religion.
This leads to the third poser, suppose if the BJP decides to bring a bill in the Parliament to change the tribal nomenclature from Adivasi to Vanvasi, will Droupadi Murmu sign on the dotted lines and give her assent to the bill? The fundamental question is whether Murmu is committed to Adivasi’s cause or to the BJP’s agenda to appropriate all the indigenous people into the Hindu fold.
According to the 2011 Census, for combined Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, and Bihar, 63% recorded their religion as ‘Hinduism’, while 31% practice other religions and persuasions (mainly Sarna Dharam), and 5% practice Christianity. Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism are followed by less than 1% of the population. The census figure is a testimony to the fact that Adivasis are leaving their indigenous religious identity and face possible extinction as they are being sucked into the vortex of Hinduism.
The fourth poser to Murmu is her stand on economic and developmental projects that are going on in the Adivasi areas such as mining and deforestation? Whether she is a willing partner to the BJP’s design of giving the mining rights to business conglomerates and allowing them to cut the forest and build dams. Will she become a party to drive out the Adivasis from their natural habitat or she will back those who are fighting for the remains of the day?
The fifth poser to Murmu is what is her stand about the Christian missionaries working in the Adivasi areas of states like Orissa, Jharkhand Bihar? The contributions of the Christian missionaries to the development of the Adivasi community are an accepted fact and much better compared to the government’s initiatives. Now suppose if the BJP government decides to ban all the missionaries working in the tribal areas, will our Adivasi President give assent to such a bill?
This brings us to a more fundamental question; what should be the criteria for selecting a President of India. Will the selection of the Presidential candidate by the ruling party, not reduce the highest constitutional post to a mere rubber stamp? This is what is exactly happening time and again. This could be beneficial for the ruling party but it is at the expense of the people and democratic polity. The case of Droupadi Murmu is a perfect example of this selection process that has to go through the façade of the election process which otherwise weighs overwhelmingly in favor of the ruling party.
The biggest gainer in making Droupadi Murmu the President of India is the political party in power i.e. the BJP. The Hindu nationalist party by bringing in an Adivasi community member, a woman has covered the remaining area of its influences. It is clear that Murmu being President will help the BJP and not the ranks and files of her Adivasi community.
This is a very wrong trend that has developed to pick up a Presidential candidate. The President should be picked up for his/her outstanding contribution to the country. He/she should be someone who has dedicated his life to the benefit of the country. The President should be someone who has an unfettered commitment to nation-building rather than being born into a particular caste, creed, or religion.
The fact is that Droupadi Murmu has been made President only to serve the BJP’s interests and that interest is to make all Adivasis Hindus. It’s for the sake of power, name, and fame that Murmu has shown her commitment to the BJP’s ideals. That means she has chosen herself above her fellow Adivasis community and that’s a huge betrayal of her credentials of being tribal women of Santhal/ Adivasi origin. While BJP has gained, India has lost making Droupadi Murmu, the President of the country. This trend is not good for upholding the constitutional values of India.
Now let’s dissect the name Droupadi which actually is a Brahmnical slur on this tribal woman and the followers of Sanatan Dharma detest keeping this name of their female child. This is because Droupadi is the main female protagonist of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. She is the wife of the five Pandava brothers—Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva at the same time. The most notable incident in Draupadi’s life is one of her husbands Yudhishthira lost the game of dice and with this the possessions of his shared wife Draupadi to the Kauravas. The Kaurava brothers and Karna, outraging the modesty of Droupadi and humiliating her, goes the story in Mahabharata.
With Mahabharata’s story in mind, the filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma has raised a curious question about Droupadi Murmu being nominated as the 15th President of India. He asked; “If Droupadi is the President who are the Pandavas? And more importantly who are the Kauravas?”
Well, Varma with his punch line has made a political statement and It is left for the wise to draw a conclusion from his remarks about the yet to sworn-in President of India. Dumbs like I have no political sense and therefore no hesitation to accept Droupadi Murmu as the President of India.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org