Draupadi Murmu has a number of firsts to her name. As the BJP-led NDA on Tuesday chose her as its presidential nominee for the upcoming elections on July 18, she became the first tribal woman to have been chosen as a candidate for India’s top constitutional post.
In 2015, when she was appointed governor of Jharkhand, she became the first woman to hold the position. In doing so, she also became the first tribal woman from her home state of Odisha to become governor.
Now, she may well be on her way to notch up another first if elected president — a strong possibility as numbers are stacked in favour of the NDA.
While the NDA seems to have made a major political statement with its choice to focus on tribal communities, Murmu is a seasoned tribal leader from the Santal ethnic group. The Santals form the largest tribe in Jharkhand and are also present in Assam, Tripura, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal.
Born on June 20, 1958, in Baidaposi village of Mayurbhanj district, Murmu began her political career in 1997 as a councillor and vice-chairperson of the Rairangpur civic body. In the same year, she was appointed the vice-president of the Odisha BJP’s ST morcha.
In 2000, she became the MLA of Rairangpur when the BJP and Biju Janata Dal formed a coalition government. She was the minister of state (independent charge) for Odisha’s department of transport and commerce from 2000 to 2004, and also assumed charge of the state’s animal husbandry department from 2002 to 2004, and the fisheries department in 2002.
Coming from a humble background, Murmu rose through political ranks battling poverty and personal tragedies in the one of the most remote and underdeveloped districts of the country. But her zeal to serve the society trumped and she completed her education with a BA from Ramadevi Women’s College in Bhubaneshwar.
Her rich political and administrative experience is reflected in the positions she held with the saffron party. From 2002-2009, she was a national executive member of the BJP’s ST morcha. Once again, in 2004, she became the Rairangpur MLA, and then was appointed the state president of the BJP’s ST morcha from 2006 to 2009.
As a reward for her outstanding contribution, she was awarded the ‘Nilakantha Award for Best MLA’ in 2007 by the legislative assembly.
She has also served as a government servant from 1979 to 1983 in the position of a junior assistant in the Odisha government’s irrigation and power department. As a grassroots worker, she has also taught without any salary at the Shri Aurobindo Integral Education Centre in Rairangpur.