Droupadi Murmu becomes 15th President of India; first-ever tribal woman to hold the highest Constitutional post

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New Delhi: Droupadi Murmu was on Monday sworn in as India’s 15th President at an impressive ceremony in the packed and historic Central Hall of Parliament.

Hailing from the Santhal community, Murmu is the first tribal leader to assume the office of the President.

Chief Justice of India N V Ramana administered the oath of office to Murmu in the presence of Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Union ministers, governors, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and a host of dignitaries.

Former President Pratibha Patil, and Chief Ministers Naveen Patnaik, Eknath Shinde, Jairam Thakur, Yogi Adityanath and N Biren Singh were among the dignitaries present.

Dressed in a white saree with a green and red border, Murmu took the oath of office in the name of God in Hindi to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law”.

Murmu was given a 21-gun salute after which she signed the oath register amid thunderous applause and thumping of desks.

The oath-taking ceremony was marked by pomp and grandeur and began with the arrival of outgoing President Ram Nath Kovind and Murmu in a procession from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the Parliament Building.

After the short ceremony, Murmu and Kovind were escorted out of the Central Hall amid the roll of drums and blowing of trumpets.

After a national salute by the President’s Bodyguard at Gate No 5 of the Parliament, the new President and her predecessor left in a ceremonial procession to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

At the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the new President inspected the tri-services guard of honour.

The low-profile politician is believed to be deeply spiritual and 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.

“She is deeply spiritual and soft-spoken person,” said Basant Kumar Panda, BJP leader and Lok Sabha member from Kalahandi.

In an interview in February 2016 to Doordarshan, Murmu gave a glimpse into the tumultuous period of her life when she lost her son in 2009.

“I was devastated and suffered from depression. I spent sleepless nights after my son’s death. It was when I visited Brahma Kumaris, I realised I had to move on and live for my two sons and daughter,” Murmu had said.

In the month since she was nominated as the NDA’s presidential candidate on June 21, she has made no public statement.

The victory run seemed certain and her numbers were boosted with support from a section of opposition parties such as the BJD, Shiv Sena, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, YSR Congress, BSP, TDP.

Some of these parties had earlier supported the candidature of the joint opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha.

Murmu travelled throughout the country campaigning for the presidential election and was received warmly across state capitals.

Her first steps in politics were taken in Rairangpur where she was a elected as BJP councillor in the Rairangpur Notified Area Council in 1997 and rose to being 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 has been through a lot of pain and struggle, but doesn’t get rattled by adversity,” said former Odisha BJP president Manmohan Samal.

Born into a Santhal family, she is an excellent orator in Santhali and Odia languages, Samal said.

He added that she had worked extensively to improve infrastructure such as roads and ports in the region.

The tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj has been the focus of the BJP, which is eyeing a strong foothold in the state.

The BJD snapped ties with the BJP in 2009 and has consolidated its hold over Odisha since then.

Murmu had contested the 2014 assembly election from Rairangpur, but lost to the BJD candidate.

After completing her tenure as Jharkhand governor, Murmu devoted her time to meditation and social work in Rairangpur.

“I am surprised as well as delighted. As a tribal woman from remote Mayurbhanj district, I had not thought about becoming the candidate for the top post,” Murmu had said after her selection as the presidential candidate.

The hurdles were several and the achievements many.

Belonging to Mayurbhanj, one of the most remote and underdeveloped districts of the country, Murmu earned her Bachelor’s degree in Arts from Bhubaneswar’s Ramadevi Women’s College in Bhubaneswar and served as a junior assistant in the irrigation and power department in the Odisha government.

She also served as an honorary assistant teacher in the Shri Aurobindo Integral Education Centre in Rairangpur.

Murmu was awarded the Nilkanth Award for the Best MLA of the year in 2007 by the Odisha Legislative assembly.

She has diverse administrative experience having handled ministries such as transport, commerce, fisheries and animal husbandry in the Odisha government.

In the BJP, Murmu was vice president and later president of the Scheduled Tribe Morcha in Odisha.

She was elected the district president of Mayurbhanj (West) unit of the BJP in 2010 and re-elected in 2013.

She was also named member of the BJP National Executive (ST Morcha) the same year.

She held the post of district president till April 2015 when she was appointed as the Governor of Jharkhand.

Murmu’s daughter Itishree works in a bank in Odisha.