Droupadi Murmu takes oath as India’s first tribal president

Analysts said the move will likely help PM Narendra Modi extend his base among the tribal communities ahead of his re-election bid in 2024.

Droupadi Murmu has been sworn in as India’s president, making her the first person from one of the country’s marginalised tribal communities to serve as the head of state.

The former school teacher and state governor was elected to the largely ceremonial position last week with 64 percent of the vote by members of India’s parliament and state assemblies.

Murmu, who is from the Santhal tribe and was born in eastern Odisha state, paid her respects before her inauguration on Monday at a memorial dedicated to India’s independence icon Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi.

“I started my life journey from a small tribal village,” Murmu, 64, said after taking the oath of office in parliament.

“From the background I come from, it was like a dream for me to even get elementary education,” she added.

“But despite many obstacles, my resolve remained strong and I became the first daughter from my village to go to college.”

PM Narendra Modi congratulates Murmu after she was elected as president [File: Press Information Bureau/Handout via Reuters]

Reporting from New Delhi, Al Jazeera’s Pavni Mittal called the occasion “historic and highly symbolic”.

“Since her election last week, there have been many celebrations in largely tribal belts across the country,” she said.

“This is being seen as a presidency that could inspire millions of people, that is women and people from the tribal communities to dream big and enter mainstream Indian politics.”

India’s prime minister wields executive power but the president can send back some parliamentary bills for reconsideration and also plays a guiding role in the process of forming governments.

Murmu is the country’s second female president after Pratibha Patil, who held the position for five years from 2007.

She succeeds Ram Nath Kovind, the second president from the Dalit community, which falls at the bottom of the Hindu caste system.

Droupadi Murmu,
People pose next to a picture of Murmu in capital New Delhi [File: Aushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

Murmu’s win was considered a certainty because of the strength of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in the parliament and state assemblies.

Analysts said the move will likely help Prime Minister Narendra Modi extend his base among the poor tribal communities ahead of his re-election bid in 2024.

Tribal communities make up some 8.6 percent of India’s 1.4 billion population and are often poor and marginalised.

“As far as the political impact is concerned, that could be limited because this is a largely ceremonial position. Political analysts say the BJP could score some brownie points, particularly in areas that do have a large tribal population but only to some extent,” Mittal said.

In her speech, Murmu said her election would give hope to the poor and downtrodden who have been left behind despite India’s recent economic growth.

“It is a matter of great satisfaction to me that those who have been deprived for centuries, who have been away from the benefits of development … are seeing their reflection in me,” she said.

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