The Indian state has constantly deceived the world by concealing its dismal record on minority rights through tokenism

draupadi murmu

Let’s not be fooled by the election of the first indigenous (Adivasi) woman as India’s President.

Draupadi Murmu made history after winning the presidential election. She was the candidate of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described her victory as a “ray of hope”.

Since Adivasis make up eight percent of the Indian population, Murmu’s election is certainly significant, but not a moment to celebrate, considering what her community is being subjected to.

Not only are the Adivasis being forcibly evicted in the name of development, throughout their mineral-rich traditional lands by the extraction industry, with the backing of the Indian state, but any voice of dissent from within the community is suppressed with the help of police and paramilitary forces. Often, they are branded as Maoist insurgents and thrown in jail under draconian laws, simply because left wing radical groups are active in the tribal areas. A number of social justice activists advocating for their rights are being incarcerated under trumped up charges.

As if this wasn’t enough, the Hindu supremacists have been trying to assimilate the Adivasis into the pan-Hindu identity, denying their independent and distinct identity.

Propping up Murmu as an Adivasi face of the government is thus a part of a well calculated move on Modi’s part.

However, the pattern is neither different nor new. The predecessor of Murmu, Ram Nath Kovind, was from the oppressed community of Dalits or so-called untouchables, who are discriminated against under a brutal caste system practiced by the orthodox Hindus. If Kovind’s appointment couldn’t stop the repression of Dalits, nothing is going to stop the repression of Adisasis with Murmu as President.

To be fair with Modi, previous governments also indulged in this kind of gimmickry.

India appointed its first turbaned Sikh President in 1982, under a self-proclaimed secular Congress government.

Zail Singh was elected to the office when the Congress government in New Delhi was locked in a political tussle with the Sikh leadership of Punjab. The Sikhs were seeking some extra religious and provincial rights back then. Instead of giving them their due, the Indian government ordered a military invasion on their holiest shrine, the Golden Temple Complex in June, 1984, leaving many innocent pilgrims dead. The government bypassed Zail Singh while allowing the army to assault the place of worship following reports of religious militants stockpiling weapons inside the complex.

The ill-conceived military action led to the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, culminating into the state sponsored massacre of Sikhs across India. All this happened on the watch of Singh.

In July, 2002 India elected A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as its President.

A Muslim man, Kalam’s appointment followed the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat early that year. Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat when thousands of Muslims were slaughtered by BJP supporters, after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire leaving more than 50 passengers dead. Modi had blamed the Muslims for the incident, which according to one commission of enquiry was an accident caused by cooking gas.

Ironically, Kalam was elected by the BJP-run coalition government in New Delhi, after international outrage caused by the Gujarat bloodshed.

India’s image of diversity cannot be taken for granted, at least not on the basis of these symbolic gestures from those in power. The global community needs to wake up and look at India more critically, especially when attacks on minorities and political dissidents have grown under Modi.

Gurpreet Singh is a journalist


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