President. The highest constitutional post in India.
I was a tiny little girl when the fourth president of India, Shri V. V. Giri visited a place near my hometown. My youngest uncle, like many of his age, went to ‘see’ the president. And he took me along. I still remember him hoisting me on his shoulders and pointing towards a white car and excitedly saying – “Look, there goes the president”! I really have no idea whether I indeed had a glimpse of the man or just saw a white car passing by. But for a very long time (of my young life) this was a tall tale to be narrated to all and sundry – ‘I have seen the President’.
Since then we have had ten more presidents – scholar, former diplomat,’the missile man of India’.. – each bringing in their distinctive flavours to the Raisina Hill. In the Indian democratic set-up, the president not only holds the highest constitutional post, s/he is also supposed to be the face of the Government.
The current president, fourteenth of the line, Shri Ramnath Kovind has presented a graceful and dignified and compassionate face of India to the world. Of all the presidents, that our generation has known, President Kovind stands out for his understated gestures of kindness, much needed in a world devastated by a global pandemic and fighting against the dual threat of terrorism and climate change.
The ruling coalition of the National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has now proposed the name of Shrimati Draupadi Murmu for the fifteenth president of India. She too comes from Odisha like Shri V. V. Giri and has been born in Baidaposi village of Mayurbhanj district, less than 500km from Brahmapur where Shri Giri was born (though Brahmapur was part of Madras Presidency then).
Shri J P Nadda, president of Bharatiya Janata Party, has said that the feeling within the NDA alliance has been to select the Presidential candidate from the eastern part of the country and preferably a woman belonging to a tribal community. Yes, Shrimati Murmu ticks all of those boxes. If elected, she would be the first president from a tribal community. But she is much much more.
The mainstream media, at their crass and churlish best, shrieks “who’s Draupadi Murumu?”. Not their fault really. They do not know her. They do not know the women Shrimati Murmu represents.
She knows what a toilet means to a rural woman. It not only gives a woman dignity, it also gives her security. What do urban elites know about the dangers of abduction and sexual assault that women must expose themselves to on a daily basis when they go out in the ‘field’?
She knows what inexpensive sanitary napkins mean to countless low-income group women. She knows how women must not only use, but also wash & re-use pieces of old cotton sari for their sanitary needs. She knows how women must struggle desperately to keep their surroundings clean and hygienic despite such odds.
She knows what it means for women to have gas cylinders at home. She knows how women must get up before the cock crows to get the ‘chulha’ going. Knows how women must scavenge in the countryside to gather dry sticks, how they must make cow-dung cakes and try to keep them dry. Knows how they must blow and blow in the chulha to get the damp wood burn on a rainy morning.
She knows how women suffer daily because of domestic violence. She also knows how it is directly related to women not owning any property. She knows how the mandatory provision for the female head of the family to be the owner or co-owner of the house under the ‘Pradhanmantri Awas Yojana’ has been created to specifically target this aspect of a woman’s life.
Yes, Shrimati Murmu knows them. She knows the women for whom the government led by Shri Narendra Damodardas Modi has been working tirelessly for these past years. That is why she is the best person for the top post. She is the best person to be the face of this government, the face of an India that is changing.
And then, she is `Draupadi’! Like the character in Mahabharata, she too has suffered unimaginable hardships and tragedies in her personal life. Yet, she has persevered. She has taken the beatings to emerge victorious in her endeavours. It would be a serious mistake to think of her as a symbolic choice. Symbolic yes, but not of the obvious, not of the boxes ticked. She is a symbol of new India – aspirational yes, but also the India that cares and perseveres.
As we usher in an emergent new India that is deeply rooted in its traditional values, it would be fitting to have a person like Shrimati Draupadi Murmu as its constitutional head at this juncture.