Droupadi Murmu scripted history on Thursday by becoming India’s first tribal President in the one-sided contest, defeating Opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha.
Murmu, 64, won by an overwhelming margin against Sinha after receiving over 64 per cent valid votes in a day-long counting of ballots of MPs and MLAs, comprising the electoral college, to succeed Ram Nath Kovind to become the country’s 15th president.
After the end of the counting process that continued for more than 10 hours, returning officer P C Mody declared Murmu as the winner and said that she got 6,76,803 votes against Sinha’s 3,80,177 votes.
All MLAs from Kerala voted for Sinha while Murmu got all votes from Andhra Pradesh.
She will be the first President to be born after independence and is the youngest to occupy the top post. She is also the second woman to become the President. She will be sworn in on July 25.
Her victory was sealed after the third round itself when the returning officer announced that Murmu had already received over 53 per cent of the total valid votes even as ballots from 10 states and Union territories are still being counted.
Conceding defeat after the third round of counting, Sinha congratulated Murmu and said every Indian hope that as the 15th President she functions as the “custodian of the Constitution” without fear or favour.
In a statement, Sinha thanked the leaders of the Opposition parties for choosing him as their consensus candidate in this election.
“I also thank all members of the Electoral College who voted for me. I accepted the offer of Opposition parties solely guided by the philosophy of Karma Yoga preached by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita — ‘Do your duty without expectation of the fruits thereof’,” Sinha said.
“I have performed my duty conscientiously out of my love for my country. The issues I had raised during my campaign remain pertinent,” he said.
Immediately after the announcement of the NDA presidential nominee crossing the halfway mark, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president J P Nadda visited Murmu at her residence here to congratulate her.
“India scripts history. At a time when 1.3 billion Indians are marking Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, a daughter of India hailing from a tribal community born in a remote part of eastern India has been elected our President!,” Modi tweeted
He congratulated Murmu on being elected to the top Constitutional post.
“Droupadi Murmu Ji’s life, her early struggles, her rich service and her exemplary success motivates each and every Indian. She has emerged as a ray of hope for our citizens, especially the poor, marginalised and the downtrodden,” he said in a series of tweets.
The Prime Minister also thanked all MPs and MLAs across party lines who supported her candidature and said her “record victory” augurs well for our democracy.
“Droupadi Murmu Ji has been an outstanding MLA and Minister. She had an excellent tenure as Jharkhand governor. I am certain she will be an outstanding President who will lead from the front and strengthen India’s development journey,” he said.
Soon after counting began and she inched towards the halfway mark, celebrations began in her native town of Rairangpur congratulating “Odisha’s daughter”, with folk artists and tribal dancers performing on the streets. Murmu belongs to one of the largest tribal groups in the country, the Santhals.
Murmu’s tribal background not only helped catapult her to the top post, but the BJP by fielding her is also eyeing crucial votes of the ST community in upcoming assembly elections in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which have a significant tribal population, besides the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
This also helped her get the support of a number of independent parties including BJD, YSRCP, AIADMK, TDP, BSP, JDS and SAD, besides opposition’s JMM, Shiv Sena and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party in her victory run.
By nominating her, the BJP is also seeking to get its foothold in Odisha’s tribal-dominated belt, which it has been eyeing ever since it snapped ties with BJD in 2009. Odisha goes to the polls along with the 2024 general elections and so does Andhra Pradesh, where there is a significant tribal population.
Murmu had contested the 2014 assembly election from Rairangpur, but lost to the BJD candidate.
Born on June 20, 1958, in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, she catapulted into the national spotlight after being picked as the ruling NDA’s presidential nominee in the July 18 polls.
It is from Rairangpur that she took her first step up the BJP ladder. She was a councillor in the local Notified Area Council in 1997 and rose to be a minister in Odisha’s BJD-BJP coalition government from 2000 to 2004. In 2015, she was appointed governor of Jharkhand and stayed in the post till 2021.
She is an excellent orator in Santhali and Odia languages and has worked extensively to improve infrastructure such as roads and ports in Odisha.
The low-profile Murmu, believed to be deeply spiritual, is a keen practitioner of the meditation techniques of the Brahma Kumaris, a movement she embraced after she lost her husband, two sons, mother and brother in just six years between 2009-2015.
An image soon after her announcement as NDA nominee for the top post was perhaps in sync with this facet — her sweeping the floor of the Purnandeswar Shiv temple in Rairangpur in Mayurbhanj district.
(With PTI inputs).