In Odisha’s remote Adivasi villages, Monday marks a historic
occasion. As such, lamps were lit in homes and prayers performed in local
places of worship. All of this, for one woman – Droupadi Murmu. Mahashweta
Devi, the celebrated Bengali writer who spent her life bringing Adivasi life
tales to the mainstream, has a short story titled “Draupadi”. In the short story,
“Draupadi” is a symbol of resistance against the machinations of the Indian
state. The story was recently dropped from Indian school curriculum by the
current regime. Irony or not, it is another Droupadi who has become a symbol of
Adivasi selfhood through Murmu’s nomination for the president’s post.

Droupadi Murmu, 64, hails from a Santhal village in Odisha’s
Mayurbhanj district. Adivasis make up nearly 60% of the population of the
district which boasts of a much better sex ratio, 1,006 women to 1,000 men,
from the Indian average of 940 females to 1,000 males. On Sunday evening,
villages across Mayurbhanj and the rest of Odisha lit up lamps and prayed to the
Santhal deity Marangburu for Murmu’s success.

Babulu Murmu, a priest at a Mayurbhanj ‘jaher’(Santhal place
of worship) told PTI that scores of people visited the jaher to pray for Droupadi
Murmu’s success in the presidential elections to be held Monday. The votes of
the presidential elections will be counted on July 21. The new president of India
will take oath on July 25, a day after President Ram Nath Kovind remits office.

Murmu has the solid support of the National Democratic
Alliance (NDA). While the BJP’s support in itself bolsters her chances, she has
also received support from Odisha’s ruling party the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
Naveen Patnaik’s party, which defeated the BJP in the last Assembly polls in a
big way, has thrown its weight behind the first Odia presidential nominee.

The Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray’s party, broken to bits, has
also lent its support to Murmu. Both the Eknath Shinde faction and the Uddhav
Thackeray faction are expected to vote for Droupadi Murmu. Nitish Kumar, Bihar
chief minister and the leader of the Janata Dal, who remaining an ally of the
BJP is often not in agreement with the Narendra Modi government, has also
pledged support to Murmu.

Droupadi Murmu started out as a ward councillor and went on
to become the governor of Jharkhand. In the presidential elections, Murmu is up
against career bureaucrat and former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, the joint
Opposition’s pick for the president’s post. The election of the President of
India gets underway on the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament.