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'Our Droupadi' vs local poll dynamics in tribal terrain of Mayurbhanj

There were media reports that Uparbeda, 120 km from the district headquarters in Baripada, got electricity only after Murmu became President

The ancestral home of President Droupadi Murmu in Uparbeda village under Odisha’s Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha constituency

The ancestral home of President Droupadi Murmu in Uparbeda village under Odisha’s Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha constituency. (Photo: Ramani Ranjan Mohapatra)

Ramani Ranjan Mohapatra Mayurbhanj
Sitala Hansda’s face beamed with pride when asked about the route to Uparbeda, the native village of President Droupadi Murmu, in Odisha’s tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha (LS) constituency.
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Currently held by Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentarian and Union Minister Bishweswar Tudu, this seat, being the President’s bastion, carries high stakes in the general elections.
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“Our Droupadi?” replied Hansda, a septuagenarian, as she showed the way to Murmu’s home. July 25 will mark two years in office for Murmu, the first tribal head of state and the second woman to occupy the country’s highest constitutional post. “She is our community’s pride,” said Hansda’s son Parau.
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There were media reports that Uparbeda, 120 km from the district headquarters in Baripada, got electricity only after Murmu became President. “It was just a couple of families who had recently shifted to another place in the village. Electricity now lights up every home,” said Birbal Banam Soren, who lives nearby.

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Deserving villagers have got houses or money under government schemes sanctioned, and tap water reaches every household. The road in the village was built when Murmu was a state minister back in 2002. “Repair will start soon,” said Paresh Chandra Giri, 81, sitting at a Shiv temple with a group of villagers, discussing politics. “Temple work is almost complete. But some amount is pending to be disbursed. We are being asked for a commission (bribe),” said Giri.
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Villagers feel progress has not been as substantial as it should have been in a President’s village. “It’s been 25 years since the promise of an irrigation facility was made,” said Gobinda Soren.
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For tribals outside the village, issues of the community matter.
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Satya Narayan Majhi, columnist and lecturer at a private engineering college in Karanjia, listed the long-standing demands, which include the introduction of a Sarna religion code to officially recognising their religion, religious practices, and customs, and the implementation of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act 1996.
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Mayurbhanj district, home to 58.72 per cent of the tribals, with 10 major tribal groups, has nine constituencies across three LS seats going to the polls on June 1.
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In October 2023, the Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD’s) Bangiriposi legislator and State Minister Sudam Marndi, now contesting from the LS seat, came under fire when he defended the state’s proposal, now withdrawn, to amend the Odisha (Scheduled) Areas Transfer of Immovable Property Regulations, 1956, which would have allowed the community people to sell or mortgage their land to non-tribals in scheduled areas.
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Last year, Murmu attended a Santali writers’ programme organised to spread the Santali alphabet Ol Chiki in the district. “This shows her commitment to the community. We need more regular teachers in the language,” said Raimani Marndi, assistant professor in history at the MPC Autonomous College in Baripada.
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Many hope the President will also look into the demand for the inclusion of the Mundari and Ho languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
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The Naveen Patnaik government has withdrawn over 50,000 cases filed against tribals and opened residential schools for community students. In January, the Patnaik Cabinet approved a 100 per cent state-funded minimum support price on the minor forest produce of tribals. In the Interim Budget, the state allocated Rs 226 crore for preserving tribal culture and identity.
Lecturer Majhi highlighted concerns related to employment, land rights for permanent settlements, and better railway connectivity. In November last year, Murmu flagged off three trains at Badampahar railway station, around 10 km each from Uparbeda and her in-laws’ village in Pahadpur.
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Last week, Patnaik campaigned for BJD candidates in the district, saying his party honoured the “daughter of the soil” by supporting the presidential candidature of “sister” Murmu.
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the “daughter of Odisha is today the pride of India and it’s all happening due to the strength of your vote”. He is scheduled to address a rally in Baripada on Wednesday.

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Will Murmu’s elevation decide the poll outcome?
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“There are local dynamics,” said Sandeep Sahu, journalist and author of Madam President, a biography of Murmu.
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The BJP had won 49 of the 56 Zila Parishad seats in 2017 and went on to sweep the LS seat as well as five of the seven Assembly constituencies under the segment in 2019. However, it drew a blank in the 2022 panchayat polls.
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BJD candidate Marndi, who had represented the LS seat in 2009 on the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) ticket, is banking on state schemes and the reorganised party strength.
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The BJP has dropped Tudu and fielded Murmu’s confidant Naba Charan Majhi, the sitting legislator from Rairangpur, the seat Murmu represented for two terms until 2009.
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JMM founder Sibu Soren’s daughter Anjali Soren, who finished third in 2019, is the candidate from the INDIA bloc. “It would have been easy for the BJP had it retained Tudu. Majhi has limited impact outside his constituency. But the tide could turn after the PM addresses a rally there,” Sahu said.

When asked who she would vote for, Hansda smiled before covering her face with the saree.

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First Published: May 28 2024 | 12:07 AM IST

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