Home / Opinion / Columns /  A dream of the Mahatma gets fulfilled finally

Rashtrapati Bhavan is only a formal swearing-in ceremony away from Draupadi Murmu. She will be India’s first tribal woman to hold the office of President. By electing her President, the Bhartiya Janta Party has fulfilled a dream of M.K. Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. Gandhi had desired that the first President of Independent India should be a Dalit woman.

The 23-party National Democratic Alliance had only 48.64% of the votes when the BJP announced Murmu’s name. The BJP held 40% of the vote, while the Opposition held 35.47%. It was clear that some sort of political manoeuvring was required. The BJP, led by Modi, Shah, and Nadda, knew how to handle the situation. Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal and Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YRS Congress were already desperate. While Jagan was new to the equation, the BJD had backed the NDA in the previous presidential election as well. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Shiv Sena, both UPA constituents, decided to support Murmu for various reasons.

By the time the election date arrived, it was clear that 44 parties supported Murmu and 34 supported Yashwant Sinha, but the real game had yet to begin. Members of almost all regional parties, including the Congress, openly “cross-voted". It demonstrates that Opposition unity and political commitments were merely lip service. This is how Murmu received 64.03% of the vote, while Yashwant Sinha received only 35.97%.

Let us go back to the last three presidential elections: Pratibha Devi Singh Patil won in 2007, Pranab Mukherjee of the UPA won in 2012, and Ram Nath Kovind of the NDA won in 2017. Every time, only those chosen by the Delhi Durbar won. On each occasion, the winner received 65-70% of the votes, while the loser received 30-35%. This year’s presidential election was no different. Like in previous years, this year, too, there were numerous tales of dirty politics. But it makes no difference to our politicians.

Congress had purposefully positioned itself in the background. Sharad Pawar and Mamta Banerjee were given command. Trinamool chose Sinha. Banerjee’s supporters were ecstatic a few months ago when they heralded that she is going to form a non-BJP and non-Congress opposition and this formation would change the equations of the election in 2024. That bubble burst right away, but this election did the rest of the job. Pawar was confined to Maharashtra due to the Shiv Sena rebellion, and Banerjee is yet to find nationwide appeal. There’s also Patnaik and Reddy. They want to keep the BJP out of their states. They prefer a weak NDA and a disintegrated Congress over a formidable Opposition. Will this wager always succeed? It will be put to the test in the upcoming elections in Andhra and Odisha.

Let’s move on to the vice presidential candidates, now. While Margaret Alva, the former Congress leader, is running as an opposition candidate, the NDA has nominated Jagdeep Dhankar, who has won only one assembly election and one Lok Sabha election, so far. Alva, in contrast, has a record of only one victory through popular votes. Connected to the Nehru-Gandhi family, she has long been a fixture on several posts. Though her political stature is bigger, she has been away from the spotlight for a while.

There is a striking contradiction between the candidates chosen by the NDA and UPA for president and vice president. The BJP has chosen grass-roots leaders in preparation for the upcoming elections. UPA candidates, in contrast, seem to be wealthy and look like natives of Lutyens’ Delhi. Since 2014, the electoral margin between Bhadralok and the average voter has grown. The opposition lost the chance to address it during these elections. On 47 Lok Sabha and 554 assembly seats, with a predominance of tribal people, Murmu can have an impact on NDA. Kovind played an identical part five years ago. Speaking of Dhankhar, the next assembly elections in Rajasthan, along with western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, will have an impact. It will significantly lessen the Jats’ perception that Delhi did not treat them fairly. Has Congress chosen Alva to address Karnataka or the South as a whole? At the last presidential election, the candidature of Meira Kumar did not do the Congress any favour. Will Alva’s candidacy this time benefit the party?

Such contradictions have prevented the opposition from fulfilling its duty. You may recall that BJP politicians vilified the Manmohan Singh administration during 2013–14 on all matters including inflation, currency depreciation, and border security. Even now, things are not much better, but the dispersed opposition is unable to raise a significant voice about these issues.

Heartfelt congratulations to Draupadi Murmu Ji, and a modest request as well! Along with dignity, the position you will hold raises a lot of expectations. I hope you live up to the expectations.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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