Sunday, Sep 24, 2023

Parliament Inauguration: A Moment Missed

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Parliament Inauguration: A Moment Missed

The symbolism of a tribal woman President inaugurating the new Parliament building would have been remarkable, feels the community

An Aberration? President Droupadi Murmu at a temple in Deoghar, Jharkhand
An Aberration? President Droupadi Murmu at a temple in Deoghar, Jharkhand Photo: PTI

That Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and not President Draupadi Murmu, inaugurated the new Parliament building on May 28 is old news. The fact that she was “not even invited” hit the headlines days before the inauguration. What, however, has not been reported, but has garnered a lot of attention, for reasons both right and wrong, was her visit to Jharkhand from May 24-26.

On May 24, Murmu inaugurated the newly-constructed Rs 600 crore High Court building at Dhurva in Ranchi, which is spread across 165 acres. Her speech during the inauguration struck the right chord. She spoke about the law and order situation in the state; justice should not be delayed; and, the process of seeking the same should be made easy and smooth for everyone.

However, what she did before she arrived for the inauguration has not gone down well with a section in Jharkhand. Murmu visited Deoghar in the morning on May 24 and offered her prayers at Baidyanath Dham. Upon reaching Ranchi, she paid her homage to Birsa Munda, the leader of Dharti Aaba (father of the land). She then arrived for the inauguration of the High Court.

Unclear Protocol

“She had come to inaugurate the highest temple of justice, the state High Court, but she went and prayed at the Deoghar temple first. She should have, in fact, paid homage to Birsa Munda upon her arrival in Ranchi and then proceeded for the inauguration. Had she visited the temple after the inauguration, it would have sent across a different message,” says Vandana Tete, general secretary, Jharkhandi Bhasha Sahitya Sanskrit Akhra, an Adivasi and indigenous literary-cultural organisation.

She and many others feel that the President’s Jharkhand visit protocol was beyond comprehension. “She herself is a practicing Sarna. However, with her temple visit, it seems as if an attempt was being made to send across a message that Sarna tribals are Hindus,” she says.

After the inauguration of the new Parliament building, Murmu said she was “deeply satisfied” that the structure was inaugurated by Prime Minister, who is “the symbol of Parliament’s trust”

Questioning Murmu’s temple visit, Elina Horo, secretary, Tribal Women’s Network, says: “It shows that more than being the President of the country, she is representing her party. Her position is being misused.”

Incidentally, when Murmu was the Governor of Jharkhand between 2015 and 2021, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Raghubar Das was the chief minister. During this period, Murmu lent her support to tribals protesting against the state government. As Governor, she had sent back amendments made in the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 (CNT) and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPT) for reconsideration.

‘Unfortunate for the Country’

Nineteen opposition parties, along with the Congress, had boycotted the inauguration of the newly-constructed Parliament building on May 28. They had demanded that the President, and not the Prime Minister, should have inaugurated the new Parliament. Tete and Horo feel the same.

“It is a fact that the President has a strong liking for Jharkhand and for this reason she was sent for the inauguration of the High Court. But it is also true that the President is stationed in Delhi and seated at a very high post. She is the first citizen of the country. Imagine not calling her for the inauguration of the new Parliament House! This is so unfortunate for the country. Where are all those people and party workers who rooted for her when she was a presidential candidate? What kind of protocol is this?” asks Tete.

Talking about the President’s state visit, Alok Kujur, a member of Adivasi Adhikar Manch, says the Central government had two missions. First, they got the President to inaugurate the High Court, and second, the President’s temple visit gave the impression that all tribals are Hindus. Not calling the President for the inauguration of the new Parliament is an insult to tribals as well as the women of the country.

As per the census report of 2011, 50 per cent of the tribal population follows the Sarna faith. They believe they belong to a distinct religious group and are nature worshippers.

On May 25, during a visit to a Self Help Group in Khunti, Murmu addressed a gathering of tribal women. She asked them to move ahead in life, but at the same time, preserve tribal culture. Bandhan Tigga, a religious preacher of the Sarna faith, says that had the President visited the sacred grove of Sarna first, instead of the temple, it would have sent a correct message to the tribal community regarding preserving tribal culture. It would have given them an assurance that Murmu is close to her roots, despite being the president.

Tigga blames the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for not inviting the President for the inauguration of the new Parliament building. “By not inviting Murmu, it is clear that the BJP is not comfortable with the idea of a tribal entering the Parliament building premises. Ideally, the inauguration should have been done by the President.”

Countering these voices, Deepak Prakash, Jharkhand BJP State President and Rajya Sabha MP, said those who are criticising the President now are the same people who would criticise her when she was the Governor of Jharkhand. “These are the same people who did not give a single statement in her favour during the presidential election.”

When asked about her temple visit in Jharkhand, he said: “The post of the president is constitutional. It is unconstitutional to dispute it. Why can’t she go to a temple?”

On her part, after the inauguration of the new Parliament building, Murmu said she was “deeply satisfied” that the structure was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is “the symbol of Parliament’s trust”. That settles the debate.

(Translated by Kaveri Mishra)

(This appeared in the print as 'A Moment Missed')


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