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May the new Presidents dreams come true

Draupadi Murmu from Odisha's Mayurbhanj was sworn in as the 15th President of independent India on Monday. As celebrated widely, the accession of Shrimati Murmula, a woman born in independent India and from a tribal background, is certainly a historic event. There is no doubt that elevating the representative of the weaker section, which constitutes 8.6 per cent of the country's population, to the status of the country's first citizen will boost the morale of the marginalized and minorities. In her very first public pronouncement, she made it clear that her achievement is not personal but it belongs to every poor Indian. The new President of India sees this appointment as a proof that poor India can not only dream, but also make it a reality. She also assured that the downtrodden, the Dalits, the backward, the tribal communities, the womenfolk all would find their representative in her. Let us pray that their heartfelt words come true and hope that her assurances will be honoured.

Presidential elections and candidate selection are not completely free of politics. Along with, or more than, considering other qualifications, the government at the Centre hoists on this position those who do not trespass their set redlines. There have been at least some occasions when the seats occupied by eminent leaders have also seen those absolutely servile to the ruling party. From the Congress to the BJP, parties cannot make any claims otherwise. Union Home Minister Amit Shah himself said in a statement given to the media the other day that it was an achievement of the current NDA regime to have put Murmu in the presidential position. Amit Shah, who says that BJP has done everything for the tribal people while all the previous governments neglected them, presents Murmu's candidature as the most important contribution in that direction.That being so, Murmu, who came up as a party worker and became the youngest ever president, cannot completely erase the paths she has come through. Moreover, she has in her background the history of having had to struggle to oppose the unjust laws introduced by the Jharkhand government when she was the state governor. Therefore, as we pointed out in this column earlier go about the farewell speech of the former president, what the country expects from the new head of state is not the charm of words, but merit of actions.

Murmu's rise to the presidency is legendary. But she and the extremely backward sections she spoke about are still in a position where they cannot rise from the heap they have fallen into. They suffer from everything from starvation deaths to poor access to hospital services. The tribal groups have virtually no representation at the higher levels of bureaucracy other than ornamental positions. So far no one from the tribal community has reached the judiciary at the Supreme Court. Can the President, who is the representative of the community, do anything in this regard? Central and state governments have been allocating substantial amounts in their budgets for tribal welfare and tribal development. And several new projects are announced under many names. But the experience, including that of enlightened Kerala, is that welfare and progress reach only upto the bureaucratic level where it should be implemented and the really deserving people are still left in the lurch. Corruption is rampant in tribal welfare schemes. And worse is the exploitation of forest land for big monopolies and the moves to drive tribal groups out of the ecosystem. The Modi government is now in an attempt to liberalize the conditions for using forest land for commercial purposes.

We have to wait and see if the tenacity of Murmu, who stood against the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act and Santal Parganas Tenancy Act of the Jharkhand administration, will be in display against the central government's machinations to exploit forest land. She has shared thoughts on women's rights and the dream of new generation initiative in India 4.0, as the fourth phase of the industrial revolution. Women's reservation in Parliament has become a shunned story. Although women's empowerment and awareness of rights have improved a lot, one cannot argue that there has been a significant change in public mind-set towards women. Will the new President be able to accelerate these changes that must begin at the administrative level? There are laws imposed by those in the mainstream of society without any real awareness of those at the bottom. The Uniform Civil Code is an important element in this. Tribal groups are also opposing the law, which is going to take away the rights of all minorities, as it will erase their identity characteristics. It is also important to know what stance Ms Murmu will take as the Modi government moves to implement this key item in the BJP's declared agenda.

India has enough examples to show that if the President cannot do anything in these spheres, what awaits her is the misfortune of being, as is generally ridiculed, a rubber stamp. Even as the appointment of a Dalit to the post of President is projected as a big deal, a President who visited the temple while in office had to be a victim of the cruelty of the old caste mind-set. So, whether those who occupy, and accommodate others in office are really serious or not remains to be proven by their actions in times to come. It is significant that Madam President pointed out that the strength of our democracy is that a girl born in a poor home in a remote tribal area can get to the highest constitutional position in the country. Equally important is the question whether Ms Murmu's new status will afford her the opportunity to win for the downtrodden backward classes their rights, when they are still falling by the wayside and trying to get up on their feet. That will be possible if she is able to replicate the life experience that nothing is impossible in her new path in power. What she has woven are the very dreams of India. Let us wish that they bear fruit.

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TAGS:Droupadi Murmu youngest president first tribal candidate Amit Shah on tribal welfare jharkhand governor rejecting bills Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act Santal Parganas Tenancy Act 
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