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The Politics Of Symbolism: Draupadi Murmu As The Presidential Candidate

Tribals/ Adivasis have not only been constantly neglected by the state but have also been subjected to oppression, discrimination, forced displacement and alienation. They have been forced out of their Jal-Jangal-Zameen in the name of development, while ‘modernization’, ‘capitalism’ and ‘neoliberalism’, have been forced upon them. In this context, it is enthralling that Draupadi Murmu, an Adivasi woman has been nominated for the post of the Indian President. However, within contemporary scenario, one wonders if the nomination of Draupadi Murmu is aimed at bringing real concrete socio-economic and political changes for the Adivasi community, or if it is merely the Politics of Symbolism. The author identifies certain concerns that suggest that this is purely the politics of representation, for political gains.

Draupadi Murmu (Pic source:- telegraphindia.com)

The BJP system is operating across various layers of identity politics to reach out to the minorities. In a similar move, it had elected a Dalit President and now it is banking on an Adivasi woman. It is certainly a masterstroke on the part of the BJP. The paradox is that the BJP has nominated a person from the Adivasi community it had sought to displace under the aegis of the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project. The party under whom the Adivasis (belonging to the ethnic groups of the contiguous areas of the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra), had been beaten, abused, jailed, and called 'anti-national' agents when they fought the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam, are now being called upon to serve in the Highest Office of Power. Hence, Ms. Murmu’s candidature is a distinct sign of substantive symbolism in Indian politics.

It is an undeniable fact that the RSS-BJP nexus is dominant and has hegemonized the governance of the country. The ideologies of BJP and RSS cannot be divorced. It is a fact that BJP-RSS cannot be delineated. When we view Adivasis within the larger perspective of the BJP, we have to accommodate the vision of RSS too. RSS is heavily investing in subaltern Hindutva. Furthermore, Adivasi groups are pinning their hopes on Ms. Murmu for recognition of indigenous faith as a separate religion, which is contrary to Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva Agenda. Appointed by the NDA, chances are that she will become a part of the RSS-BJP Hindutva discourse.



Moreover, the BJP and RSS are co-opting communities to expand both politically and ideologically. Jharkhand, which has a UPA Government has an Adivasi population of approximately 26%. The surrounding states of Chhattisgarh and Orissa don't have a BJP government as well and have a substantial Adivasi population. If in these states, the Adivasis are influenced by this step of the BJP; chances are that BJP will secure its win in the next elections. There are going to be elections in 19 states in the next 2 years. The Adivasi vote banks seem to be an instrumental strategy for winning the 2024 General Elections.

Hence the pertinent question is: ‘Will Draupadi Murmu’s nomination or appointment prove to be beneficial for the Adivasi community as a whole or will it be just a symbolic move? After all, how has President Kovind’s tenure in the Rashtrapati Bhawan worked for the upliftment of the Dalits?

Murmu, during her tenure as Governor of Jharkhand (2015-2021), remained silent and passive on Adivasi issues and concerns like Pathalgadi (November 2021), the CNT-SPT Amendment Act, and delayed judgments regarding fake encounters.


In politics, one needs icon and iconography. It waits to be seen how this new phase of Indian Politics, dominated by the ideology and politics of BJP, plays out vis-a-vis Adivasi identity and the politics of symbolism.


About the Author:- Parul Kunkal is an upcoming Journalist from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. Currently, she is exploring Documentary Filmmaking.

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