Indian presidential election: tribal woman Droupadi Murmu likely to be picked in polls

Thousands of politicians to choose between Murmu and former government minister Yashwant Sinha

Droupadi Murmu, 64, who was nominated as presidential candidate by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP, greets an audience at a rally before India's presidential elections, in Ahmedabad. Reuters
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Indian politicians voted to elect the country's next president on Monday, making a choice for the nation's top constitutional job between a female tribal leader and a former minister.

More than 4,800 legislators and parliamentarians cast their votes to choose between Droupadi Murmu and Yashwant Sinha as incumbent President Ram Nath Kovind’s tenure ends this week.

The counting of votes will take place on July 21, with India's 15th president to take oath four days later.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party fielded former member Ms Murmu for the top post, making her clear favourite.

India's president holds a role as ceremonial head of the country, a figurehead with no real powers, who acts mostly on the advice of the government.

But for political parties, having their candidate elected to the highest constitutional post provides an opportunity to showcase their nationwide political strength as well as symbolism.

Political parties routinely back candidates from marginalised groups such as Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, which are from the lowest rung in the Hindu caste hierarchy, women and religious minorities.

A joint opposition has backed Mr Sinha, a one-time leader of Mr Modi's party who has become a fierce critic of the ruling party over its Hindu supremacist policies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP has fielded former party member Droupadi Murmu as candidate for the role of India's 15th president. AP

Ms Murmu, 64, is a Santhal, a marginal tribal community, and is from Mayurbhanj in eastern Odisha state. She has spent nearly two decades in politics and social services and was appointed as the first tribal governor of Jharkhand state in 2015.

Mr Sinha, 84, is a bureaucrat-turned-politician who previously served as the external affairs and finance minister of India.

Ms Murmu has garnered larger support from BJP’s allies and is poised to sweep the polls. If elected, she would be the first tribal member and second woman to hold the presidency.

On the eve of the election, Mr Sinha urged politicians to vote for him as he stands for secularism.

"I stand for protecting secularism, a preambular pillar of our constitution," he said. "My rival candidate belongs to a party that has made no secret of its resolve to destroy this pillar and establish majoritarian supremacy."

Updated: July 18, 2022, 12:09 PM