NEW DELHI: India may finally get its first tribal President, with BJP naming Droupadi Murmu (64), a Santhal from Odisha, as its candidate for the top constitutional office.

BJP chief JP Nadda declared Murmu’s candidature after a meeting of the party’s parliamentary board approved what is widely considered to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s choice for Rashtrapati Bhavan.

“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 the PM.

If elected, Murmu will be the second woman President after Pratibha Patil (2007-12), who was backed by UPA.

With BJP-led NDA, which is short of majority in the electoral college, confident of making up the shortfall with the help of regional players like BJD’s Naveen Patnaik and YSRCP’s Jagan Mohan Reddy — chief ministers of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh respectively — Murmu appears favourite to replace incumbent Ramnath Kovind, a Dalit from UP, in Rashtrapati Bhavan after the July 18 polls.

Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik promptly tweeted his support to NDA Presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu who had earlier been a minister in the BJD- BJP coalition in Odisha. “It is indeed a proud moment for people of Odisha,” Patnaik tweeted. “I am sure Smt Murmu will set a shining example for women empowerment in the country.” Observers feel BJD will find it difficult to oppose the candidature of someone who was born and was a minister in the state.

Besides, BJP managers are hopeful of getting support from AIADMK. Nadda said all NDA allies had been consulted over Murmu’s candidature, an assertion which is significant in view of the strained ties with senior JD(U) leader and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.

There has been speculation about what Kumar, who had broken ranks from NDA to support UPA’s presidential candidate late Pranab Mukherjee in 2012, might do. On the other hand, recent developments like refusal of the opposition’s original choices to enter the arena and the split in Shiv Sena are likely to compound the opposition’s handicaps and hinder its efforts to showcase the contest as an ideological fight.

As a candidate, Murmu ticks quite a few political boxes for BJP. Her candidature and the likely elevation is likely to amplify the party’s message about the PM’s concern for tribals, Dalits and women. Besides, the party has also been keen to build upon the gains it has made in Odisha and the tribal pockets of West Bengal where Congress has declined as a political force. She also fits into a pattern where BJP has tried to put across political messages through its picks for Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Party general secretary B L Santosh underlined the effort by tweeting pictures of Murmu alongside those of Kovind and A P J Abdul Kalam. “There were three occasions when BJP as part of NDA could choose presidential candidates. On all three ocassions, it was inclusive, respectful of diversity and chose small town and self-made persons. When you are driven by a vision, your choice reflects that vision.”

Patnaik also expressed happiness over NDA’s choice. “Congratulations Droupadi Murmu on being announced as candidate of NDA for the country’s highest office. I was delighted when Hon’ble PM Modi ji discussed this with me. It is indeed a proud moment for people of Odisha,” he tweeted.

Education minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who is also from Odisha, said, “It is a matter of pride for our state that Odisha’s Droupadi Murmu has been declared the NDA’s presidential candidate. She hails from a tribal family and has served the poor and needy for a lifetime.”

“The party finalised Murmu’s name after thorough consultations with the NDA partners. There was consensus on her candidature after the BJP Parliamentary Board discussed about 20 potential candidates,” Nadda said soon after the meeting took place in the presence of PM Modi.

The BJP president said that he himself and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, authorised by the party, had consulted opposition parties for a consensus candidate. “Since UPA-led opposition has already announced its candidate, we had no choice although we had tried for a consensus, which could have been a good development,” Nadda said. Short of barely 2% votes, BJP has also consolidated its position by fielding Murmu, a native of Odisha as it will be easier for the saffron party to convince the BJD chief and state CM Naveen Patnaik to vote for its nominee.

Patnaik himself has been a vocal supporter of women empowerment with his party fielding record number of women candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

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