Book Review: ‘Madam President’, An Elegant Retelling Of Droupadi Murmu’s Extraordinary Life

“Madam President” by Sandeep Sahu is a captivating biography that chronicles the extraordinary life of Droupadi Murmu, emphasising her remarkable rise from humble tribal roots to becoming the President of India. The book delves into her personal tragedies, including the loss of her two sons and husband, which further highlight her resilience and determination.

Sahu, an experienced journalist, provides a well-researched account of Murmu’s life, drawing from interviews, personal anecdotes, and historical context. The narrative begins by recounting an incident from 1995 when Murmu was teaching nursery classes and a lizard fell on her head. This incident, believed to be an omen, is presented as a precursor to her eventual political career. Sahu, skilfully, weaves together various events and experiences to show the role of destiny in shaping Murmu’s life. “It is easy to be cynical about the story narrated by Dillip (Murmu’s colleague who witnessed the lizard incident), but there is no denying the role of destiny in the way Murmu’s life has panned out in the years since.” (P-2)

The book explores Murmu’s early career as a teacher in Sri Aurobindo School and her subsequent entry into politics. It highlights her involvement with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and her rise as a prominent tribal leader. The author emphasises the significance of her candidature in the 1997 elections to the Rairangpur Notified Area Council, where she became a councillor and later the vice chairperson. Murmu’s achievements as a legislator and her ministerial positions are also detailed, showcasing her determination and commitment to public service.

The narrative takes a poignant turn when the author describes the personal tragedies that struck Murmu—losing her sons, and her husband’s passing. Sahu portrays her strength in overcoming these heartbreaking events and how her association with the Brahma Kumaris organization played a crucial role in her recovery. The book highlights Murmu’s deep sense of spirituality and her dedication to serving humanity.

“When I went to meet her the day after the death of her second son, I was amazed at how calm and tranquil she looked. While the others in the family were sobbing, there was not a drop of tear in her eyes. She just sat there, quiet and unflustered. There was talk of possible foul play in the death of her son. But she appeared to be completely oblivious of it. It seemed she had attained the state of sthitapragyan [a state of being beyond joy and sorrow] that our scriptures talk about,’ one of her party’s woman colleagues told the author.” (P-119)

Sahu’s writing style is engaging, making it easy for readers to connect with her journey. The author’s extensive experience as a journalist shines through in the meticulous research and attention to detail, providing a comprehensive account of Murmu’s life.

One of the book’s strengths lies in its exploration of the cultural and political landscape of Odisha, adding depth and context to the story of the First Citizen. It offers insights into the challenges she faced as a tribal woman navigating the political arena and the impact of her achievements on her community. The book calls attention to the shameful episode that exposed the mean mentality of some sexist opposition leaders during President Murmu’s presidential candidature serves as a stark reminder of the deep-rooted racism and misogyny that still persist in Indian society. Despite her assumption of the high office, these ugly facets continued to rear their heads. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav and Congress leader Ajoy Kumar made tasteless and unbecoming remarks before the presidential election, but even after her inauguration, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury carried the baton by referring to her as ‘Rashtrapatni’—a mischievous pun on the Hindi term for President, ‘Rashtrapati.’ This derogatory comment drew sharp criticism from Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Smriti Irani, who rightfully denounced it as a sexist insult. Such incidents not only reflect the mean-spiritedness of a few opposition leaders but also highlight the work that remains to be done in dismantling gender biases and fostering a more inclusive society.

Overall, ‘Madam President’ is a compelling biography that celebrates Droupadi Murmu’s inspiring life journey. Sandeep Sahu’s adept storytelling, combined with the emphasis on her rise from humble beginnings and her resilience in the face of personal tragedies, makes this book an engrossing read for those interested in Indian politics, women’s empowerment, and stories of triumph over adversity.

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