JULY 21, 2022
A woman who hails from one of India’s minority ethnic communities was chosen Thursday as the country’s new president, a largely ceremonial position.
Droupadi Murmu, a leader from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, was elected by the Indian Parliament and state legislatures in voting Monday, making her the first president from one of the country’s tribal groups and the second-ever woman to hold the position.
She will be formally sworn in as the president next week.
Murmu, 64, who hails from the eastern state of Odisha and was governor of Jharkhand state from 2015-21, is a member of the Santal ethnic minority, one of India’s largest tribal groups. She started out as a schoolteacher before entering politics and has been a two-time lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party.
Murmu’s father and her grandfather were village heads in Baidaposi, in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district.
Modi congratulated Murmu by visiting her at her residence in New Delhi, and in a tweet wrote that he was “certain she will be an outstanding President who will lead from the front and strengthen India’s development journey.”
“Her record victory augurs well for our democracy,” Modi said.
Murmu’s supporters and Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP see her win as a triumph for tribal people and a breakthrough moment for her community, which generally lacks healthcare and education facilities in remote villages.
Opposition parties, however, are doubtful whether she will be able to help empower and bring any change to the marginalized community.
The president’s role in India is largely ceremonial, but the position can be important during times of political uncertainty, such as when there is no majority party in Parliament, at which point the president’s office assumes greater power. She is bound by the advice of the Cabinet led by the prime minister, who is the chief executive.
Murmu will replace Ram Nath Kovind, a Hindu nationalist leader from the Dalit community, which is at the lowest end of Hinduism’s complex caste hierarchy. Kovind has been president since 2017.
Murmu won against her opponent, Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP rebel who quit the party following differences with Modi on economic issues in 2018. Since then, Sinha has been a vocal critic of Modi and his government.
Indian lawmakers will vote for the country’s new vice president in August.