NEW DELHI: Droupadi Murmu was sworn in as India’s president on Monday, making her the first person from one of the country’s marginalized tribal communities to serve as head of state. The former school teacher and state governor was elected to the largely ceremonial position last week with 64 percent of the vote by members of India’s parliament and state assemblies.
Murmu, who is from the Santhal tribe and was born in eastern Odisha state, paid her respects before her inauguration at a memorial dedicated to India’s independence hero Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi. “I started my life journey from a small tribal village,” Murmu, 64, said after taking the oath of office in parliament. “From the background I come from, it was like a dream for me to even get elementary education,” she added. “But despite many obstacles, my resolve remained strong and I became the first daughter from my village to go to college.”
Murmu’s win was considered a certainty because of the strength of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies in the parliament and state assemblies. Analysts said the move would probably help Prime Minister Narendra Modi extend his base among the poor tribal communities ahead of his re-election bid in 2024. “Her assuming the Presidency is a watershed moment for India especially for the poor, marginalised and downtrodden,” Modi said on Twitter after Murmu’s address.
Murmu said her election would give hope to those left behind by India’s recent economic growth. “It is a matter of great satisfaction to me that those who have been deprived for centuries, who have been away from the benefits of development… are seeing their reflection in me,” she said.
India’s prime minister wields executive power, but the president can send back some parliamentary bills for reconsideration and also plays a guiding role in the process of forming governments. Murmu is the country’s second woman president, after Pratibha Patil, who held the position for five years from 2007. She succeeds Ram Nath Kovind, the second president from the Dalit community, the bottom of the Hindu caste system.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the world leaders to congratulate Murmu and said he was “ready to work” with his new Indian counterpart to strengthen relations, according to Chinese state media. Relations between the world’s two most populous nations have been frosty since a deadly Himalayan military stand-off between the countries in 2020. Both sides have since reinforced their disputed border with extra soldiers, military hardware and new infrastructure, and multiple rounds of military and diplomatic talks have failed to de-escalate tensions. – AFP