The Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi has hosted leaders from all over the world, when will an Adivasi preside over the place Photograph: (Others)
Many would argue that pitching a tribal president would be a symbolic affair but politics is about creating symbols
With Ram Nath Kovind’s announcement as NDA’s presidential candidate, the bar has been raised for the Opposition. The Opposition’s candidate will need to create a far powerful imagination of presidency knowing that he or she doesn’t have the numbers to make it to the office of the President. But the crisis does sow the seeds of opportunity. When Ambedkar’s grandson, Prakash Ambedkar says that an Adivasi should be selected to fight the official candidate, it shouldn’t be brushed aside as light comment from a political outsider. Instead of making it a Dalit vs Dalit fight, the Congress party can pick its own symbol of oppressed people, and deploy a face whose credibility matches or exceeds that of the official candidate.
Today, tribals represent the most exploited and least politically empowered segments in the Indian political structure.
Last time around, PA Sangma floated this idea and contested the elections on this very plank but lost. He was an accomplished parliamentarian but his opponent was formidable Pranab Mukherji. So neither the idea had cut any ice nor could he create a counter-narrative which would put Pranab Mukherji at a disadvantage despite having the numbers by his side.
India’s tribal communities also suffer from the absence of political platforms, which both Muslims and Dalits enjoy.
Tribals in this country are the most oppressed people in India. They are far more marginalised than Dalits, both socially and politically. In popular literature and politics, Dalits have their icons but tribals have none. Even Muslims and other minorities received support from various quarters and help from mainstream parties but not the members of the tribal communities. It is also because tribals are far removed from the cities; their voices are too remote to be captured by the media. India’s tribal communities also suffer from the absence of political platforms, which both Muslims and Dalits enjoy. The original sons of the soil also continue to be violently oppressed by the state, industrialists, Naxalites and missionaries.
Tribals of India don’t have their Ambedkar or Gandhi.
Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, which were created on the plank of tribal homeland have non-tribal as their chief ministers today.
Worst is the representation rate of the tribals in the state as it continues to be very low. India has never had a tribal in any of the top four ministerial portfolios. Neither the service chiefs nor the head of bureaucracy has come from any of the tribal communities, leave alone the positions of prime minister and the president. Though tribals have gone on to become the chief ministers but such is the nature of politics that states, such as Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, which were created on the plank of tribal homeland have non-tribal as their chief ministers today. Tribals neither control the rich natural resources nor have a say in the pattern of development. All they have received is displacement in the name of development.
Many would argue that pitching a tribal president would be a symbolic affair but politics is about creating symbols. It imparts larger meaning to public discourse. Even Pratibha Patil was projected as a woman by the Congress when she was nominated as India’s first female president. So, what should the Congress do now when multiple alliance partners are on verge of leaving them for BJP?
Congress can make a strong pitch for a tribal as the President. Otherwise, they would either have to pitch the former Lok Sabha Speaker Meera Kumar or else they would have to go for a Gandhian who in popular imagery could transcend the politics of caste. And both the categories would look stale and ordinary.