Apana mane khusi ta? Odias jubilant over Droupadi Murmu’s Presidential bid

The response of Odias has been predominantly happy, but questions have also been raised on the ‘weight’ of Murmu’s political credentials, ‘stature,’ and ability to deliver as opposed to her co-contender Yashwant Sinha

Droupadi Murmu
Droupadi Murmu

Besides the initial exultation and pride over the nomination of a tribal Odia woman for India’s premier post, the response to NDA’s pick of Droupadi Murmu for the presidential elections has been mostly mixed in her home state.

People from Odisha, irrespective of political affiliations, caste and community lines, have lauded the BJP’s decision to pick Murmu for the post. But, doubts have also been raised over the ‘weight’ of her political credentials, ‘stature’ and ability to deliver, as opposed to a national leader like the Opposition’s pick, Yashwant Sinha.

This besides the murmurs in political circles that she being the BJP’s tribal-woman ‘trump card’ to win the Presidential polls, may end up being another ‘puppet President’.

Also read: By choosing Draupadi Murmu as Presidential nominee, BJP kills two birds with one stone

Hailing from the Santhal community of Mayurbhanj district, Murmu embarked on a political career by becoming the councillor of the Rairangpur Nagar Panchayat in 1997. She was also the president of the BJP’s Scheduled Tribes Morcha.

She was entrusted with the Commerce and Transport and later the Animal Husbandry portfolios when the Naveen Patnaik government came to power in 2000 after stitching an alliance with the BJP. In 2015, she was transferred to neighbouring Jharkhand as its Governor and served till 2021.

A bachelor’s degree holder, Murmu worked as a teacher and a junior assistant in the irrigation and power department before taking the political plunge.

If elected, she would be the first tribal President of the country.

A BJP pawn?

“It is definitely a matter of pride for Odisha that a woman from the state has been nominated for the president’s post. However, it is crystal clear that the BJP, rattled by its prospects in the presidential polls, has played the tribal card to get the support of the BJD and woo the tribal community through Murmu’s nomination,” said Jyoti Ranjan Mohapatra, general secretary of the All India Forward Block, Odisha.

Also read: Yashwant Sinha is presidential candidate in largely symbolic fight

Murmu’s nomination has been welcomed by the ruling BJD in Odisha, with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik describing it in a tweet as a “matter of pride” for every Odia.

Aparna Tripathy, a resident of Keonjhar, a tribal-dominated district in the state, feels Murmu pales in comparison to the Opposition’s candidate Sinha when seen from an objective viewpoint.

“I am happy to see a woman from Odisha getting named for the post. But we haven’t heard much of her or her achievements during her time as a state minister or the governor of Jharkhand. I feel there were much more deserving candidates than her for the post,” she said. 

Niche reputation

But Murmu’s reputation, once constrained to her niche areas, is catching up among the common Odia, courtesy the media and her photo op moments.

Soon after the BJP announced her name, her locality in Mayurbhanj’s Rairangpur swarmed with reporters and onlookers. Within hours, the Centre upgraded her security detail to the Z-plus category.

On Wednesday morning, the 64-year-old began her day, in full media glare, by sweeping the floor of a Shiva temple as part of her daily routine.

Many interpreted the act as that of an astute right-wing alumna while others said it reflects the caste politics of the region, where dalits and tribals are considered untouchables and hence entrusted with menial work. Others understood it as a mark of her “deep-rooted” culture, lauding the Prime Minister for having selected such a “devout Hindu”.

After two other temple hops, she visited a tribal worship place called ‘Jahira.’

Speaking to the media, a soft-spoken Murmu thanked them for coming, but politely refused to comment, stating that she herself received the news from the television like everyone else.

A life of struggle and service

Murmu’s story of losing her husband and two sons to a personal tragedy and raising her daughter singlehandedly has inspired several sections of the youth.

“The proposal to nominate a woman from a background of struggle to the top position in the country is a great decision by NDA. I feel proud as a citizen of this country as our government is giving emphasis to grassroots workers,” said Soumya Ranjan Biswal, a UN-recognised climate leader who works for the conservation of soil and Olive Ridley turtles in Odisha.

Those who have interacted with Murmu describe her as a friendly and approachable person, even when she was at the height of power during her tenure as minister. She is said to have converted her residence in Pahalpur, a village in Mayurbhanj’s Kusumi block, into an ashram, where poor kids are imparted English-medium education.

“Since the death of her husband and children, she has completely dedicated her life to the public. Being a Brahma Kumari (a member of the spiritual order of Om Mandali) herself, she spreads messages on non-violence while working to educate tribals and make them self-reliant,” said Dhaneswar Mohanta, a social activist working for tribals in Mayurbhanj district.

Social media frenzy

Since the announcement of her name as a presidential candidate, social media has been awash with comparisons. While some said she was simple, honest and clean when compared to former president Pratibha Patil, others said she would be yet another “rubber stamp like Ram Nath Kovind”.

Many said she was promising, recalling her bold decision to take a stand against the BJP government in Jharkhand by returning the Tenancy Bill in 2017.

“The irony of the Presidential election is that the fight is between two former BJP persons. In that case, my choice is very clear. Draupadi Murmu is from my state, a tribal woman, a person with a struggling background and, above all, as a Governor, she showed her spine against her own party government in the Tenancy Bill in Jharkhand. So, my choice is clearly Draupadi Murmu,” posted Kedar Mishra, a journalist and poet from Odisha on Facebook.

Hilarious memes have been doing the rounds too.

Apana mane khusi ta?” said a meme, mimicking Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s style of asking Odias if “they were happy now”.