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Droupadi Murmu: Iron-willed ex-Jharkhand Governor who knew what is right or wrong for Tribals  

Droupadi Murmu, 64, throughout her political career has proved her critics wrong. In her personal life too, she lost her two sons and husband in a period of four years between 2010 to 2014.

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It will be a real tribute to the sacrifice of four brothers-Sido Murmu, Kanhu Murmu, Chand Murmu and Bahirav Murmu-who who led the Santhal rebellion of 1855 against the British, and so many of the country’s gallant and fearless Adivasi heroes and heroines who contributed to the making of India when NDA presidential candidate Droupadi Mumru is declared elected as the first tribal president of Indian Republic today.

Certainly, the ‘original Inhabitants’ of this great country have got the respect due to them, a dream cherished over 100 years after the Santhal rebellion in the Constituent Assembly by tribal icon Jaipal Singh Munda.

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And those who know Droupadi Murmu closely say that she would emerge as a true voice of the millions of tribals and underprivileged persons and prove her critics wrong who dubbed her as a ‘rubber stamp’ and a ‘statue’ in the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Droupadi Murmu, 64, throughout her political career has proved her critics wrong. In her personal life too, she lost her two sons and husband in a period of four years between 2010 to 2014. But she never let the tragedies dominate her life, and kept her march on.

And her action speaks for itself. A senior Raj Bhawan official, during her tenure in Jharkhand, said she was very humble but had a mind of her own.

“She would always make wide consultations on any issue, particularly tribal issues, brought before her. She had a very strong sense of what is wrong and what is right. She had a faultless tenure of six years in Jharkhand,” he pointed out.

The official said that education for children, particularly, tribal girls, had always been uppermost in her mind. “She must have visited over 200 schools in Jharkhand during her tenure and discussed with DCs and SPs the issue of education and security, particularly of tribal girls,” he recalled.

That Droupadi Murmu as a Governor had a mind of her own had been amply proved when she stood for protecting the tribal rights even it meant going against the will of the ruling party, the BJP, of which she once happened to be an active member.

Notably, the Raghubar Das-led Government had passed amendments in November 2016 to two centuries only tenancy laws-Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act-that would allow commercial use of tribal land.

The amendments had led to massive protests by the tribal organizations, besides the Opposition JMM.  Close to 200 tribal organisations had petitioned her against the proposed amendments.

Thereafter, Murmu made wide consultation with various tribal organizations and chieftains. She is said to have also discussed the issue with the Government of India officials and was convinced that the bills would prove counterproductive for tribals.

She is said to have told the Raj Bhawan officials that she will not sign on any injustice. (mere kalam se koi injustice nahi hoga).

Eight months later, Droupadi Murmu returned the bills, asking the government to clarify how the amendments would benefit the tribals. It was surprising for the political pundits. How come a ‘BJP governor’ returned the bills which were piloted so strongly by Raghubar Das, they asked.

It is said that Union Home Minister Amit Shah then consulted the tribal leaders from Jharkhand and summoned Raghubar Das to New Delhi and asked him to withdraw the bill.

It was certainly shocking for Raghubar Das who argued strongly in favour of the laws and even said he was not going to take it back at any cost. Das, the first non-tribal chief minister of Jharkhand, thought facilitating ‘non-farm’ use of holdings while keeping ownership intact could potentially change the lives of the tribal community, but he failed to read the political pulse of the tribals.

It is said that when Saryu Roy, then parliamentary affairs minister, during this period, once met Hemant Soren in a function at the Raj Bhawan, Soren had chuckled, “with Raghubar Das at the helm, the JMM will not have to toil hard to get power in Jharkhand.”

Though Das withdrew the bills and took several corrective measures to please the tribals, Hemant aptly rode on the anger of the tribals against Raghubar Das government and secured as many as 30 seats, the highest tally for the JMM in Jharkhand in the 2019 assembly elections. And that winning streak has continued with the JMM and its ally Congress winning all the four byelections held after 2019.

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