President Murmu Becomes A Poll Issue In Jharkhand

An image showing the President standing and the Prime Minister sitting with LK Advani while conferring Bharat Ratna to the former PM has angered the tribal community, claim the Congress and the JMM

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Droupadi Murmu greet her supporters after being elected as country's new president in New Delhi on July 21, 2022. Photo: Getty's Images

On March 31, President Droupadi Murmu conferred the Bharat Ratna to former deputy Prime Minister and BJP leader LK Advani. She paid a visit to the senior BJP leader’s residence to confer him with the prestigious award. This was decided in view of the ailing health of the veteran BJP leader. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also present on the occassion. A picture of the ceremony was widely shared in which both Modi and Advani are seen seated on chairs while Murmu is seen standing. This image has now angered the tribal community in Jharkhand.

Two weeks after the ceremony, tribal youths in the state are circulating the image and calling it an insult to the president. Pamphlets are also being distributed in some tribal villages. People are sharing it on social media and criticising the Prime Minister and the BJP.

Commenting on the picture, Bandhu Tirkey, the working president of the Congress and former minister, says: “As per the protocol, in case the person receiving the award is unwell, he/she can receive it on a wheelchair or one of his family members can receive it on their behalf. Advani has not been keeping well and President Murmu visited his house, which is fine. But in the picture, while the Prime Minister is sitting, the President is made to stand. This is an insult to tribals across the country. This would not have happened if the President was from another caste. Since she is a tribal, this kind of behaviour is being meted out to her.”

The issue is also being raised by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)—an ally of the Congress and the biggest tribal party in the state. The JMM is calling it political corruption. The party said in a press conference: “Advani ji is sitting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is sitting and President is standing with her hands folded. This kind of behaviour is not acceptable towards a woman tribal President.”

Party MP and former Jharkhand Women Commission chairperson Mahua Manjhi also raised her objection. She says: “This picture is demeaning for sure. People are reacting because Murmu was the Governor of Jharkhand, and people are emotional about her. Though the government made her the President, she has not been given her due respect.”

Both the Congress and the JMM are trying to make it a political issue. Tirkey informed that around one lakh posters and pamphlets have already been printed and distributed. Initially, these were distributed in tribal-dominated villages and ST seats of Lok Sabha. Now, the plan is to distribute these in all the 14 Lok Sabha seats of the state.

He added that even tribals living in remote villages know that the President is senior to the Prime Minister. They are taking it as an insult and it is bound to become an election issue.

Many organisations, too, have raised objections to the image. Ilina Horo, the coordinator of the Tribal Women's Network, says that be it in Manipur, Chhattisgarh or Madhya Pradesh, tribals everywhere have been at the receiving end. “One can see a superior and inferior representation in the picture. The BJP has always considered tribals to be inferior. Murmu is the President but is not given the respect that she deserves. The President is the custodian of Parliament, but the new Parliament building was not inaugurated by her, but by the Prime Minister himself,” says Horo. The continuous insult of Murmu is an insult to the entire tribal community, therefore, this time, it should be made an issue in the Lok Sabha elections, she adds.

In June last year, a picture of President Murmu worshiping at the Jagannath Temple in Delhi, went viral in which she was seen standing with her folded hands outside the door of the temple. While some people objected to this, others questioned her tribal identity when she visited the temple.

There are many reasons for the increase in political activism in Jharkhand with regard to President Murmu, who belongs to Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, which lies at the border of Jharkhand. She was the Governor of Jharkhand from 2015-2021 when the BJP was in power. During this period, she used to openly express her views on tribal identity and voice her concerns about the plight of the tribal community.

She belongs to the Santhal community—the oldest tribal community that makes up the highest tribal population of Jharkhand. Four Chief Ministers of Jharkhand belong to the Santhal community. Champai Soren, the present Chief Minister, too, belongs to this community.

(Translated by Kaveri Mishra)