Droupadi Murmu, a tribal politician, was sworn in as India’s new president on Monday amidst a ceremony.
The 64-year-old former teacher hails from Odisha state and has had a stint as a state governor. Murmu is the country’s first tribal leader in the top post. “My elevation as president is not just my achievement but that of everyone in the country, that they can dream of reaching this level,” Murmu announced soon after taking the oath.
The president in India is the head of the state but does not exercise executive powers. He or she is elected by the members of both the houses of parliament and of the legislative assemblies of states and federally-administered union territories.
Murmu registered a comfortable win against the opposition’s candidate – veteran politician Yashwant Sinha. Sinha, a senior minister in the BJP government led by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the 1990s and early 2000s, is now a vocal critic of the party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Murmu replaces President Ram Nath Kovind, whose term ended on 24 July. Murmu was chosen as the presidential candidate after a detailed discussion of 20 names that the BJP and its allies had floated. She said she learnt about her nomination from television and the news had “surprised” and “delighted” her. “As a tribal woman from remote Mayurbhanj district, I had not thought of becoming the candidate for the top post,” she told reporters after learning about her nomination. Political leaders in Odisha had welcomed her nomination, describing Murmur as a “daughter of the soil”.
Party colleague in the state, Kabi Vishnu Satpathy, who has known her since the 1980s, describes her as a “straightforward and simple” person. “A compassionate woman, she’s good at heart, with no arrogance, no airs. She doesn’t show off, mixes freely with people and is humble and down-to-earth. As a politician, she knew how to take people along.” In August, Indian lawmakers will also vote to select the country’s vice-president. The BJP has announced Jagdeep Dhankar – a senior leader who was governor of West Bengal state – as its candidate. The opposition is fielding Margaret Alva, a Congress veteran who has been a federal minister several times.