There has been much President candidate Draupadi Murmu, who in all likelihood is set to become India’s first President from the tribal community, powered by the NDA and some unaffiliated parties.

According to BJP president JP Nadda, the party felt India’s next President should be from the East, be a woman and belong to the vanvasi community – parameters that made Murmu the perfect fit. 

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It is a known fact that the BJP lacks a pan-India face to represent tribals, who constitute nearly 9 per cent of the country’s population, with bigger concentration in several politically significant states. According to reports, the tribal vote is mostly bagged by the Congress and regional parties. With Murmu in Rashtrapati Bhavan, the BJP will hope to consolidate the Scheduled Tribes (ST) vote behind it. 

However, the numbers may be a bigger calculation by the BJP. While many political parties and commentators have interpreted the development as the saffron camp’s continued outreach to tribal communities, the elections that are scheduled in Gujarat later this year, and in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh next year, may also have shaped the consensus towards Murmu.

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Numbers show the BJP has mostly failed to make the cut in tribal-influenced seats. In the last assembly elections, the Congress had won 86 of the 128 ST-reserved seats in Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh! 

In 2017, Gujarat witnessed the Congress winning 15 and BJP nine out of the 27 ST seats. In Rajasthan the following year, the Congress won 13 and BJP eight of the 25 ST seats. MP has 47 ST seats, of which 31 went to the Congress and 16 to the BJP. In Chhattisgarh, the Congress had won 27 of the 29 ST seats, leaving only two for the BJP.

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How BJP is planning its tribal outreach 

The BJP foray into tribal communities is being led by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In April, he attended an event in Gujarat’s tribal-dominated Dahod district, where donning a tribal jacket and headgear, he evoked tribal icon Birsa Munda’s contribution to India’s freedom struggle and also mentioned his work for tribal welfare as Gujarat CM. 

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In the same month, Union Home minister Amit Shah addressed a gathering of tendu patta collectors in Bhopal and handed over cheques to them, besides announcing several schemes for the community.

Since May, Shah and Nadda have addressed tribal events in Rajasthan’s Banswara and Sawai Madhopur, and Jharkhand’s Ranchi in an aggressive bid to woo the community. 

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In its second term, the Modi government has withdrawn proposals to amend the Indian Forests Act, 1927, and increased budgetary spending on tribal welfare.

The RSS, on the other hand, has for long been trying to build a cadre base among tribal communities to edge off the influence of Naxalism and Christian missionaries.