Droupadi Murmu is NDA’s choice for presidential poll

Press Trust of India

New Delhi

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday named Droupadi Murmu, a tribal leader of the party from Odisha, as the ruling National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) candidate for the presidential election, sending out a significant political message after elevating a Dalit, Ram Nath Kovind, to the top post five years back.

Bharatiya Janata Party president JP Nadda announced her name at a press conference following a meeting of the party’s parliamentary board, which included Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior leaders.

Murmu (64), a former Jharkhand governor, will be the first person from Odisha and the first tribal woman to occupy the top constitutional post if she is elected, a strong possibility as numbers are stacked in favor of the BJP-led NDA.

The Opposition had earlier in the day announced Yashwant Sinha as its joint candidate for the post. The poll is slated for July 18.

Soon after Murmu was named as the BJP-led NDA’s presidential candidate, Prime Minister Modi said she has devoted her life to serving society and expressed confidence that she will be a ‘great President’.

“Droupadi Murmu Ji has devoted her life to serving society and empowering the poor, downtrodden as well as the marginalized. She has rich administrative experience and had an outstanding gubernatorial tenure. I am confident she will be a great President of our nation. Millions of people, especially those who have experienced poverty and faced hardships, derive great strength from the life of Smt. Drupadi Murmu Ji.

Her understanding of policy matters and compassionate nature will greatly benefit our country,” Modi tweeted.

Considered a soft-spoken and affable leader, who comes from Mayurbhanj, one of the more backward regions of Odisha, Murmu has held various positions in the party rising through the ranks and was a minister in the state when the BJP was in alliance with the ruling Biju Janata Dal.

Known for taking decisions with an eye on the larger political message, the BJP is hopeful that Murmu’s candidature will help its reach among the tribals not only in her home state but also across the country as it has continuously strived to woo various disadvantaged communities to good political results.

She will be the first President, if elected, born after independence. Modi has often spoken about being the first Prime Minister born after India gained freedom and used the plank to reach out to the masses.

She is likely to draw support from several non-NDA regional parties, including Odisha’s ruling BJD, and even an Opposition party like Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which is in power in Jharkhand with the Congress, may find it hard to oppose her as the party identifies itself with the cause of tribals.

Nadda told reporters that around 20 names were discussed by the party leadership for the presidential candidate before it decided to pick someone from the eastern region and a tribal and woman. He said the ruling party wanted a consensus choice for the next President but it could not happen as the Opposition went ahead by naming its own candidate.

Nadda noted that Union Minister Rajnath Singh and he had spoken to various party leaders, including those from the Opposition, to reach a consensus but in vain. The BJP had spoken to its allies about the candidature of Murmu, he added.

A former government official, who later switched to politics, she is likely to file her nomination in a few days, with June 29 being the last date.

Incidentally, her name was also doing the rounds for BJP’s likely choice for the top constitutional post in 2017 but Kovind then emerged as its pick.

Meanwhile, several major Opposition parties, including the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Tuesday picked former Union minister Yashwant Sinha as their candidate for the July 18 presidential polls.

Opposition leaders, who gathered at the Parliament annexe for the meeting convened by NCP chief Sharad Pawar to decide on a common candidate for the much-discussed presidential election, unanimously agreed on Sinha’s name.

The veteran politician, who has “stepped aside” from the Trinamool Congress and was earlier with the BJP, will file his nomination papers on June 27.

“We regret Modi government made no serious effort to have consensus on a presidential candidate,” Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who read out a joint statement after the meeting, said. He noted that the initiative to have a consensus candidate for the highest office of the Republic should have been taken by the government.

“We are happy to announce that we have unanimously chosen Yashwant Sinha as the common candidate of the Opposition for the presidential election, which parties will take place on July 18, 2022,” Ramesh said. “In his long and distinguished career in public life, Shri Yashwant Sinha has served the nation in various capacities – as an able administrator, accomplished parliamentarian and acclaimed Union Minister of Finance and External Affairs. He is eminently qualified to uphold secular and democratic character of the Indian Republic and its constitutional values,” the statement said.

The leaders also announced that a committee formed to steer Sinha’s presidential campaign will start working from Tuesday. Sinha, who has been vocal on a range of issues, is in his 80s.

Pawar told reporters that he has personally spoken to a cross-section of leaders from various parties. These include Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Telangana’s K. Chandrashekar Rao from the TRS who stayed away from the meeting.

Pawar said he also spoke to TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as well as Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Tejashwi Yadav (Rashtriya Janata Dal), Farooq Abdullah (National Conference) and Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena) and they are all supported Sinha’s candidature.

“We will also try to convince the BJD and YSR Congress,” Pawar said when asked whether they are on board.

The parties that attended the meeting included the Congress, NCP, TMC, CPI, CPI-M, Samajwadi Party, National Conference, AIMIM, RJD and AIUDF.

Five regional parties considered non-aligned – TRS, BJD, AAP, SAD and YSRCP – stayed away. These parties had also stayed away from the June 15 meeting convened by Banerjee.

The ruling BJP-led combine has over 48% vote share in the electoral college to pick the new president, and its has a clear advantage over the Opposition.

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