Droupadi Murmu vs Yashwant Sinha: Presidential hopefuls from ‘two Indias’
- Droupadi Murmu is a Santhal woman from Odisha
- She’s the only governor of Jharkhand to finish a full term in office
- Yashwant Sinha, former IAS, Union minister, is opposition’s candidate
Droupadi Murmu and Yashwant Sinha, both started out as teachers before entering public life and both served the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for years. But apart from these, India’s two presidential nominees have nothing in common. Murmu, 64, worked as an assistant teacher at a school in Odisha’s Rairangpur before becoming the councillor of Rairangpur Nagar Panchayat. Sinha, 84, taught for some time University of Patna before joining the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).
Murmu and Sinha’s candidature for the president’s post serves to show stark sociological distinctions between the two candidates and the two sections of society India’s two main political forces are either wooing or be driven by.
Droupadi Murmu is a Santhal woman from Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district. The Santhals are the largest tribe in Jharkhand and have major population concentrations across central and eastern India. Mayurbhanj, Droupadi Murmu’s home district, is one of the most tribal-populous districts in the country.
The woman who BJP wants as president, who will, if elected, become the second woman President of India, comes from an ordinary family albeit always invested in politics. Both Murmu’s father and her grandfather were village headmen under India’s Panchayati Raj system. Born on June 20, 1958, Droupadi Murmu, if elected, will be the first president of India to be born after Independence.
Murmu’s rise to political prominence came when she was elected councillor of the Rairangpur nagar panchayat in 1997. She was one of those BJP leaders who maintained her electoral sway when Odisha was consumed by a Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) wave. Later on, she went on to serve in Naveen Patnaik’s cabinet as minister in a BJD-BJP alliance government.
What has worked for Murmu consistently is her reputation as an able administrator. That has helped her maintain sway over the electorate as well as keep good ties with all political factions.
Patnaik, the chief minister of Odisha and once her political opponent, tweeted, after her nomination as presidential candidate: “Congratulations Smt #DraupadiMurmu on being announced as candidate of NDA for the country’s highest office. I was delighted when Hon’ble PM @narendramodi ji discussed this with me. It is indeed a proud moment for people of #Odisha.”
Murmu’s was also the only governor of Jharkhand who managed to finish a five-year term as the state’s governor. Since the formation of Jharkhand in 2000, no governor could complete their gubernatorial tenure, until Murmu.
As she heads on to contest the presidential polls, she will face Yashwant Sinha, the opposition’s consensus candidate. Sinha’s life has been very different from Murmu’s. Born in an upper-caste Hindu family in Bihar’s capital Patna, Sinha pursued a degree in political science and later taught the subject at the University of Patna.
He then went on to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1960 at the age of 23. As a bureaucrat, Sinha served as a sub-divisional magistrate as well as a district magistrate. In his 24-year-long career, Sinha has served as the Consul General of India in Frankfurt, Germany from 1971 to 1973 and as the joint secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry of Surface Transport from 1980 to 1984.
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In 1984, the same year when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated, Sinha quit the IAS to join the Janata Party, at the time, the singular opposition force against the indomitable Congress formed by Gandhian socialist freedom fighter Jay Prakash Narayan, or JP. In 1988, Yashwant Sinha secured a spot in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament.
As the Janata Party fell apart, Sinha aligned first with Chandra Shekhar’s Janata Dal and subsequently with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then under the aegis of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Yashwant Sinha was a member of the Vajpayee government from 1999-2004, the regime which is now credited for connecting India to the global supply chain, a task from the liberalisation era left unfinished.
After a three-decades long stint with the BJP, Yashwant Sinha quit his party in 2018. A party that he felt had become very different from the one run by Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. In the party now run by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, Sinha felt India’s democratic institutions were at risk.
Three years later, when West Bengal leader Mamata Banerjee was fighting a pitched battle against the BJP enroute to the 2021 Assembly elections, Sinha threw his weight behind the Trinamool Congress. Just one year later, Sinha has now resigned from the TMC to become the opposition’s presidential candidate.