Droupadi Murmu, India’s New President: National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominee Droupadi Murmu on Thursday defeated Opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha to become India’s new President. She will be sworn in as India’s 15th President on July 25, after her predecessor, Ram Nath Kovind’s tenure ends on July 24. With this victory, Murmu, 64, became the first person from the tribal community to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and only the second woman after Pratibha Patil to be appointed to the country’s top constitutional post.
Announcing her nomination last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter and wrote, “Smt. Droupadi Murmu Ji has devoted her life to serving society and empowering the poor, the 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.”
Known for her simplicity and soft-spoken nature, an elated Murmu said her nomination for the post of President had taken her by surprise. She was chosen out of a list of 20 candidates that NDA had in mind for the presidential race. Her name also featured in the list of likely candidates for the NDA during the last presidential polls in 2017. Despite her soft-spoken nature, Murmu’s steely determination and strong will is evident in her personal as well as professional life.
Despite suffering several personal tragedies – losing her husband in 2014 to losing both her sons between 2009 and 2012 – Murmu single-handedly raised her daughter Itishree, who is now a banker married to a rugby player. Itishree says her mother is like any other mother, sweet and strict at the same time.
Murmu, however, is no “rubber-stamp” as the Opposition parties and her challenger Yashwant Sinha belies her to be. As Jharkhand Governor in 2016, Murmu returned the amended bills to two land laws to the Raghubar Das-led BJP government. After returning the bills, that would make tribal lands more accessible for industrial use, the Das government had to eventually withdraw the bills in 2017.
Meanwhile, the little-known village of Murmu in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district has come to life following the victory of “Odisha’s daughter.” The Pahardpur village, located adjacent to Jharkhand, is all decked up, as locals, dressed in tribal attire, broke out in celebration following the news of Murmu’s victory. Murmu’s journey from India’s most backward belt to the Rashtrapati Bhavan is a story riddled with many struggles.
She was the first person from her paternal village in Uperbeda, also in the same district, to go to a university in Bhubaneshwar. She had risen through the ranks to become a minister in Odisha back in 2000 when the BJP was in alliance with the BJD. She was a councilor from Rairangpur before she won the assembly elections there in 2000. Murmu joined the BJP back in 1997. Before she took the political plunge, Murmu was a teacher at the Sri Aurobindo Integral Education and Research Centre in her village Rairangpur between 1994-1997. She had become the national executive member of the party’s Scheduled Tribe Morcha in Odisha. She has served at key positions in several ministries in the Odisha government including transport, commerce, fisheries and animal husbandry. She was also awarded the prestigious ‘Nilakantha Award for Best MLA’ in 2007 by the legislative assembly.
Murmu also served as a government servant from 1979 to 1983 in the capacity of a junior assistant in the Odisha government’s irrigation and power department.