The NDA’s presidential candidate Draupadi Murmu is unlikely to be a “rubber stamp” president as insinuated by her rivals, judging by her past records.
New Delhi: As Governor of Jharkhand during the BJP regime under Chief Minister Raghubar Das, considered to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Draupadi Murmu effectively stopped the land use change in the state despite the Government’s best efforts. She firmly held the view that the measure would adversely affect the tribals.
The Raghubar Das government had passed an Amendment Bill in the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT Act) and Santhalpargana Tenancy Act (SPT Act). Murmu sat over the Bills refusing to clear them despite pressures from both the state and the Centre. The two acts were passed during the British era in 1908 to protect land rights of Adivasis. Under these acts, no agricultural tribal land can be acquired. The BJP chief minister, apparently under pressure from the Centre, pushed for a change and even got the Assembly pass the Bills effecting changes. It created widespread resentment among tribals leading to statewide protests.
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According to tribal leaders who spearheaded the protest then and met Murmu with representations against the Bills, the Governor assured them that she will not allow the tribal rights to be trampled upon. “She lived up to her promise and saw to it that the CNT Act and SPT Act were not changed”.
Encouraged by Draupadi Murmu’s stance, tribal protesters ran a dictat during that period declaring that no government official will be allowed to enter their villages under what is known as “pathargarhi movement”. Tribals erected stone fencing around their villages with a message saying no government personnel is allowed inside. The movement was a roaring success.
Efforts to amend CNT and SPT acts snatching tribal rights on their land proved to be a waterloo for the NDA Government led by Raghubar Das. The BJP lost power in the last assembly election. Raghubar Das himself was defeated badly from Jamshedpur.
A self-made person from a humble tribal background, Murmu will not hesitate to assert herself on issues relating to the Adivasis and Dalits, according to people who know her. She is said to be equally forthright on issues concerning women’s rights. As a BJP MLA in Orissa during the BJD-BJP government, she pushed for 50 per cent reservation for women in the legislature and other elected bodies. She received the best MLA award too, mainly on this issue.
Although a tribal politician from Orissa’s Mayurbhanj district, she holds sway in the Adivasi belt of the bordering Jharkhand. Indeed, the tribals of neighboring West Bengal and Chhatisgarh too will now look up to her once she assumes office of the President of India.
Some people wonder as to why she was chosen as a the NDA’s presidential candidate knowing her role as Jharkhand Governor on the issue of land use change, so dear to Modi. They say it will become doubly difficult to effect changes in the CNT/SPT acts now that Murmu’s taking over as President is almost certain. It is assumed the BJP-led Centre has, for now, given up the idea. On the other hand, the BJP leadership is hopeful of reaping rich electoral dividend in Jharkhand-both in Assembly and the Lok Sabha in 2024.
(Devsagar Singh is a senior journalist.)