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Editorial The Hindu 23/06/2022

created Jun 23rd, 06:08 by ravi varma


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High office: On the Opposition and presidential polls
 
The Opposition did not use the presidential election to counter the BJP’s narrative  
 
The BJP has stolen a march over the Opposition by naming Droupadi Murmu as its candidate for President. With the support of BJP allies and regional parties such as Odisha's BJD and Andhra Pradesh's YSRCP, she is poised to win and become the first from a tribal community to occupy the highest office of the Republic. The significance of her elevation is particularly pronounced in the 75th year of India’s independence. A tribal woman succeeding a Dalit in the highest office of the country is a remarkable testimony to the deepening of Indian democracy, notwithstanding the disturbing signs of the mobilisation of subaltern communities for majoritarian politics. Ms. Murmu will be the second woman to hold the highest office, after Pratibha Patil, and at 64, she will be the youngest President in the country’s history. From Mayurbhanj in Odisha, part of the region that houses a vast majority of India’s aboriginal population, Ms. Murmu was a teacher, and joined the BJP in 1997. She was a Minister in Odisha and the Governor of Jharkhand between 2015 and 2021. Her nomination by the BJP for the highest office of the country signifies the party’s sustained efforts to incorporate tribal communities politically and culturally. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal signature on the decision is unmistakable and is in line with his relentless efforts to expand the BJP’s social base wide and far.
 
With numbers tilted in the BJP’s favour, the Opposition could have only used the contest for the highest office as an opportunity for political messaging. The joint candidate of the Opposition parties, Yashwant Sinha a former BJP leader and Union Minister in the Janata Dal and BJP governments hardly serves that purpose. For all his track record, Mr. Sinha hardly represents anything political. That he turned into a strong critic of Mr. Modi after being ignored for positions, if anything, weakens any claim of his candidacy being an ideological counter to the BJP. The lack of imagination, initiative and capacity for any radical politics in the Opposition comes across starkly in the selection of the candidate. While Mr. Modi uses every election as an opportunity to respond to group aspirations of various communities, the Opposition remains adrift and ensconced in cocoons. That Mr. Sinha comes from a tribal State, Jharkhand, makes the optics of this contest even more damaging for the Opposition. The Opposition is right to point out that the BJP did not make any serious effort to field a consensus candidate. But excusing its own limitations by blaming the BJP is self-defeating. This turned out to be yet another missed opportunity for the Opposition to construct a counter narrative to the BJP, which is inclusive in its messaging in instances such as this, while not giving up its pursuit of an exclusivist politics.

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