Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently advised the BJP workers to perform a new experiment with social equations of our society. Modi said, “Now, we have to experiment more with different social equations and work on them.” After a few weeks, the BJP declared Droupadi Murmu as the NDA presidential candidate. She contested the election and won. Murmu, the first tribal lady, took oath as the 15th President of India.
In my view, PM Modi certainly did the new experiment in the politics of social equation in India by being instrumental in making the first tribal lady as the president of the country. As we know, Murmu was born and brought up in Orissa and belongs to the Santhal tribe. Now, the questions arise, why did he do this experiment? How is it going to impact tribes and the politics of democracy? In the context of developmental politics in India, through this initiative, Modi tried to enhance dignity, pride and self confidence among a marginalised community and associating these human bhavas (feelings) with the development. If someone read his vision through his actions, they may find that community’s Gaurav (pride) is very crucial in his conceptualisation of development of the communities and may appear as an important constituent of developmental politics of the marginalised in India.
As we know, dignity and pride are important requirements of the subaltern in India. If someone remember before declaring a tribal lady as the presidential candidate, Modi initiated the process of celebrating Janjatiya Gaurav Divas and introduced a package of many developmental programmes for tribal communities such as Van Dhan Yojana. Secondly, he also tried to make tribal communities aspire for development and politics through several initiatives in the last few years.
In the context of democratic politics, this act may have a large impact. This political act with its symbolic influence is going to evolve tribals as a cohesive political class, may work as one of the electoral bases for the BJP at an all-India level. This act may evolve a homogeneous tribal identity, which may be less divided based on the local connect and multiple ethnic identities. Earlier, the tribal communities used to vote for several political parties based on their local connect. Congress and BJP as the national parties used to get a large vote share but an all-India pattern of political choice in favour or against of a specific party was missing. Through a homogeneous identity, it is assumed that this political act may mobilise tribal communities in the favour of BJP in the coming elections.
Tribals constitute around 8.6% of India’s population, which together influence electoral politics in a big way. With Murmu belonging to the Santhal tribe, mostly present in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Assam, the community may work as the base in forging tribal as a homogeneous identity at all India level at this moment. The profile of the base communities may expand in the future, and other large communities such as Gond and Bhil may be also offered appropriate space by the party. However, making a homogeneous identity by combining various ethnic group is not an easy task. But if Modi gets success in mobilising at least a large section of tribal people in his own carving of tribal identity, it will be certainly a big success.
Making Droupadi Murmu the President may also influence the politics of the state assembly elections in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Assam where tribal communities form a sizable chunk of the population. The honour and pride offered to the Santhal community by the BJP may attract them towards electoral politics of the party. Wherever the BJP is asserting to come to power in states like Orissa and West Bengal, Murmu’s effect may influence the electoral politics in a big way. Orissa, from where Murmu belongs, this political act of PM Modi may work well. The BJP in Orissa also has effective leaders such as Dharmendra Pradhan who may use Murmu’s elevation in expanding and deepening the party at the grassroots. If the shifting of tribal votes happens in these states, it may change their political topography.
The BJP is planning to organise festivals to celebrate Murmu’s victory in tribal villages and also working to distribute her pictures in lakhs of villages across the country. By such political experiments, the BJP is cutting the ground from underneath the opposition and regional political forces’ feet. In fact, tribal, Dalit and minorities are usually seen as potential for expanding politics of dissents against the party in power. They are perceived as the soft target by opposition parties, which sharpen their dissatisfaction and anti-incumbency effect through several political designs. The BJP, by its symbolic and substantial interventions among various marginal groups, is constantly snatching such political space from the opposition.
One can say the BJP is struggling hard to acquire “every inch” of the political space of the Indian democratic politics. This step of BJP may also erode the Naxal influence from the heart and mind of tribal in their certain catchment area. The BJP strategy to evolve a package of mobilisational programmes for tribals, which is based on combining dignity, pride and development, may dilute different kinds of politics of dissatisfactions nursed by the opposition among marginal and subaltern communities. Due to this, the BJP may get dividends in politics at both regional as well as national levels. The BJP has made Murmu as the symbol of tribal pride so any negative mobilisation against this may only harm the opposition.
The BJP is constantly exploring margins of the marginalised to transform them into a political community and evolve their political base. That is one of the experiments which PM Modi is doing in India. Thus, making Droupadi Murmu the President will have an immense impact on the tribal politics of India, and make it more homogeneous, visible and electorally impressive.
The writer is Professor and Director at GB Pant Social Science Institute, Prayagraj, and author of ‘Republic of Hindutva’. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.