India might get first tribal president

A female politician from a tribal community has been nominated as presidential candidate by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Ms Droupadi Murmu, 64, a veteran politician who has held senior posts in Odisha, is almost certain to be elected as the BJP holds a majority in parliament and is likely to get the support of other parties in state assemblies.

Lawmakers vote for India's largely ceremonial president.

The presidential poll will be held on July 18 and the counting of votes will take place on July 21.

Ms Murmu, who on Wednesday was seen sweeping the floor of a Shiva temple in Rairangpur in Odisha's Mayurbhanj district, was born in a family of the Santhal tribe.

She started her career as a school teacher and actively participated in tribal rights issues.

She later joined mainstream politics and served as a lawmaker and governor of Jharkhand.

Ms Murmu "devoted her life to serving society and empowering the poor, downtrodden as well as the marginalised", Mr Modi tweeted on Tuesday, after her name was announced as a candidate.

"I am confident she will be a great president of our nation."

If elected, Ms Murmu will become the first tribal president and the second female president after Ms Pratibha Patil (2007-2012).

Indian opposition parties said they would back Mr Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP federal finance minister before he turned rebel, as their candidate for the presidential election.

The BJP's move to name Ms Murmu as its presidential candidate comes ahead of assembly elections in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

The four states have 128 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes, of which the BJP had won just 35 seats in the last assembly elections.

With Ms Murmu as its presidential candidate, the party can hope to strengthen its appeal among tribal voters. In addition, the party is now sure of getting support from the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha.

The state's Chief Minister and BJD leader Navin Patnaik has welcomed Ms Murmu's candidature.

Ms Murmu's candidature will also put Jharkhand Chief Minister and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Hemant Soren in a fix.

Mr Soren's party is known for its tribal politics and it would be difficult for him to oppose a tribal woman, especially one who has been the governor of his state.

Ms Murmu on Tuesday said she was optimistic about getting the support of all the MLAs and MPs from Odisha cutting across party lines.

She added that she was both surprised and delighted on learning on television that she had been nominated for the top job.

"As a tribal woman from remote Mayurbhanj district, I had not thought about becoming the candidate for the top post," she said at her Rairangpur residence.

Asked whether she could get the support of the BJD, which holds over 2.8 per cent of votes in the electoral college, Ms Murmu said: "I am optimistic about support from all members of the Odisha Legislative Assembly and MPs.

"I am daughter of the soil. I have the rights to request all members to support me as an Odia."

The Indian Constitution provides a largely ceremonial role for the president, with the prime minister and his cabinet holding executive powers.

But the president has a key role during political crises, such as when a general election is inconclusive, by deciding which party is in the best position to form a federal government. Reuters

"I am optimistic about support from all members of the Odisha Legislative Assembly and MPs. I am daughter of the soil. I have the rights to request all members to support me as an Odia."

- Ms Droupadi Murmu

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