Droupadi Murmu To Be President: 10 Reasons This Is Important in Run-Up to 2024

BJP, Congress, and regional parties have sent important signals on their strategy for the 2024 general elections.

6 min read
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Droupadi Murmu is all set to become India's next president, having secured about 64 percent of the support from the electoral college as opposed to joint Opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha's 36 percent.

The result of the vice-presidential election may also be a foregone conclusion, given the BJP's superior numbers in the Lok Sabha. So, former West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar is likely to emerge victorious over Congress leader and former Rajasthan Governor Margaret Alva.

Therefore, this may be a good moment to discuss what the presidential and vice presidential elections mean for both the government and the Opposition in the build-up to the 2024 general elections, which are due in about 20 months time.

Here are five points each on what this election means for the NDA and the Opposition.


#NDA 1: BJP Repeats Its Midterm Blow to the Opposition

The previous presidential election in 2017 provided the backdrop for the BJP to deal a crucial blow to the Opposition. It was around the same time that the party got Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) to dump the Mahagathbandhan and join the NDA.

The Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar, at that time, was probably the most serious political threat to the BJP as it provided a model by which the Opposition could unite and defeat the Modi-Shah duo. It's breakdown helped create the impression of BJP being invincible.

This time, the blow came in an even bigger Opposition-ruled state – Maharashtra.

In June, the BJP managed to split a key Opposition constituent – the Shiv Sena – and bring down the MVA government in the state. Like Bihar, it served as an example to establish the BJP's invincibility and as a warning for other regional parties not to go against the Centre.

However, one shouldn't overstate the importance of this midterm blow. Because the months that followed the 2017 Bihar turnaround, saw a series of below par electoral performances by the BJP: Gujarat, Karnataka, MP, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh. But then, by the same logic, these state polls had no bearing on the general election results in 2019.

BJP, Congress, and regional parties have sent important signals on their strategy for the 2024 general elections.

Eknath Shinde's rebellion brought down the MVA government in Maharashtra.

(Photo: Nitin Lawate/IANS)


#NDA 2: BJP Prioritises Its Social Coalition

Droupadi Murmu as India's first Adivasi woman president, is no doubt important symbolically and helps the BJP's project of trying to forge a united Hindu vote bank.

According to CSDS, 46 percent of Hindu Adivasis voted for the NDA in 2019 as opposed to 40 percent in 2014. Adivasi support for the NDA was less than Hindu OBC support (54 percent) and Hindu Upper Caste support (59 percent) but slightly more than Hindu Dalit support (41 percent)

By nominating Murmu, the BJP has prioritised strengthening its social coalition. In some ways, the same can be said about Dhankhar's candidature as vice president, as the BJP has been showcasing him as a 'kisan putra' (farmers' son).

However, besides his Jat identity, it also served as a reward for a governor who was at loggerheads with a non-BJP government.


#NDA 3: Modi Maintains Ideological Status Quo

This is a point that doesn't get discussed often. Modi's second term as prime minister has seen a much more strident push towards the RSS' ideological project – be it the CAA or the abrogation of Article 370.

The presidential or vice-presidential elections could also have been used to take this forward by elevating someone with a strident pro-Hindutva image to either of the two posts.

However, that did not happen.

Neither Murmu nor Dhankhar are ideologues or have a track record of making communal statements.

Jagdeep Dhankhar isn't even from a BJP or RSS background, unlike his predecessor Venkaiah Naidu.

Conversely, PM Modi could also have used the presidential and vice-presidential elections to project a more inclusive image towards minorities. However, that did not happen either as none of the probables like Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Captain Amarinder Singh, and Arif Mohammad Khan made the cut for either president or vice president.

Perhaps the BJP leadership thought that Muslims and Sikhs remain among the strongest non-BJP voting blocs, and that a Muslim or Sikh vice president is unlikely to change that.


#NDA 4: The BJP Old Guard Is All but Finished

Both President-Elect Droupadi Murmu as well as the likely Vice President, Jagdeep Dhankhar, are younger than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and junior to him within the BJP.

Nominating Venkaiah Naidu was at least a symbolic mark of respect by Modi to BJP's old guard. Now, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh remains the only member of the BJP old guard to still hold a prominent position.

#NDA 5: The Main Resistance Is Still at the State Level

It is strange that despite the BJP's brute majority in the Lok Sabha, Murmu's victory margin was less than that that of Ram Nath Kovind, Pranab Mukherjee, Pratibha Patil, and APJ Abdul Kalam, despite the then UPA and NDA governments having much more slender majorities.

The reason for this is that at the state Assembly level, the BJP is still not as strong. Several states saw near complete voting in favour of the Opposition's Sinha – West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Kerala, Telangana, Punjab, and Chhattisgarh, to name a few. Even in Uttar Pradesh, the NDA lost ground compared to last time.


Let's now move on to what the election means for the Opposition in the run-up to 2024.

#Opposition 1: Anti-BJPism Is Not Yet a Strong Enough Glue

The NDA actually had control over less than 50 percent of the electoral college, however, Murmu ended up getting about 64 percent of the support. Not just fence-sitting parties like BJD, YSRCP, and SAD (Badal), even Congress allies JMM and the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena supported Murmu, besides, of course, heavy cross-voting in several states.

Now, in the vice-presidential election, the TMC has announced that it will abstain from voting.

The manner in which the Opposition failed to consolidate was a clear indication that 'anti-BJPism' is still not a strong enough glue for the Opposition to unite. A clever move by the BJP – such as Murmu's candidature – was enough to create chinks in the Opposition.


#Opposition 2: The Practical Acceptance of BJP's Hegemony

The fact that the Opposition chose a disgruntled former BJP leader, Yashwant Sinha, as its presidential candidate was proof enough of the kind of hegemony the BJP presently enjoys in the political sphere. Sinha wasn't even a conscientious objector like Jaswant Singh or Shanta Kumar.

However, there is another way of looking at it. Sinha's candidature also showed the Opposition's acknowledgement of a practical reality – that winning over disgruntled BJP supporters is key to defeating BJP.

Whether Sinha was the ideal candidate to serve this purpose may still be up for debate, but this acknowledgement is important.

#Opposition 3: The Congress Can Cede Space if Needed

The quick manner in which the Opposition arrived at Sinha's candidature wouldn't have been possible without the Congress' nod.

The Congress surprisingly showed willingness in supporting Sinha, a former BJP and current TMC leader. However, this cooperation broke down to some extent on the vice-presidential election with the TMC deciding to abstain.

But at least the presidential election showed that on some issues, Congress is willing to let regional parties take the lead and not insist on playing the big brother.

BJP, Congress, and regional parties have sent important signals on their strategy for the 2024 general elections.

The Opposition's presidential candidate Yashwant Sinha filed his nomination for the upcoming election on Monday, 27 June.

(Screengrab: Sansad TV)


#Opposition 4: Blow to TMC's National Ambitions

The TMC came across as an unpredictable entity within the Opposition during the entire process. TMC was Sinha's last party – he resigned just before being nominated as the Opposition's candidate. But the party didn't seem to push his campaign to the extent that it could.

The TMC was also stuck in a tricky position in the end as it was opposing a Santhal candidate, despite the presence of a sizable Adivasi population in Bengal and the key role of Adivasi women in the TMC's victories.

Thus, the breakdown on the vice-presidential candidate also raised questions on the TMC's ability to coordinate with other Opposition parties.

This comes on the heels of TMC's poor performance in the bypoll in Tripura and the debacle in Goa earlier.

#Opposition 5: AAP and TRS Seeking To Occupy the Anti-BJP Space

Two parties, otherwise seen as national fence-sitters, took a clear position against the BJP in the presidential election – the Aam Aadmi Party and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi.

TRS chief and Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao, in fact, used the entire presidential campaign to hit out at the NDA government at the Centre.

It appears that both KCR and Arvind Kejriwal are vying to occupy the anti-BJP space nationally and, therefore, they chose to throw their lot firmly with the Opposition.

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