By Saarthak Anand
The 14th Presidential election of India was held in the Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies across the country on Monday, the 17th of July. The candidates competing were Ram Nath Kovind, the former Governor of Bihar, and Meira Kumar, the former Lok Sabha speaker. The election witnessed a turnout of over 99 percent, the highest ever achieved in the history of India. The general trend suggests that the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) will have reason to cheer as its nominee looks likely to win.
How elections work
The election for the nominal Head of State in India is quite an extensive process. The President is not elected directly by the people. Instead, an electoral college consisting of Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) is responsible for choosing her or him. The electoral college for the 2017 election consisted of 776 MPs and 4120 MLAs. The nominated members of both Houses of Parliament are not eligible to vote.
Each MP’s vote has a value of 708 at present, while the value of a vote for an MLA differs across states. This is calculated by dividing the state’s population by the number of its MLAs and then taking the thousandth of the result. Currently, an Uttar Pradesh legislator’s vote carries the highest weight of 208, while Goa lies at the other end, with 8 votes per MLA. The total number of votes stands at 1,098,103. In order to secure victory, the candidate needs one vote above than the halfway mark.
BJP fast on its feet
Right from the beginning, BJP had scored over the opposition by announcing Kovind, a Dalit, as its candidate, at a time when the latter had not even pondered its choice. Retrospectively, the strategy worked wonders as, in addition to the National Democratic Front (NDA), a slew of parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Yuvajana Shramika Rythu (YSR) Congress, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), and factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) also announced their support to Kovind. Even the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)), which is running a government in Bihar in alliance with active opposition parties like the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), broke ranks with its partners and decided to back the NDA candidate.
No party wanted to dispute a Dalit face at a top post, and thus many were quick to offer support. All of this took place while the opposition had been effectively napping; despite choosing Kumar, the daughter of former Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram—a popular Dalit leader—it could not catch up to what the ruling party had achieved.
Excitement up to the very end
Both candidates enthusiastically campaigned in the period preceding the polls, canvassing around the country in a bid to win over various parties and legislators. Kumar had repeatedly urged the latter to “listen to the voice of their conscience”, echoing former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s “vote of conscience” appeal during the 1969 Presidential elections.
Voting began at 10 am, concluding at 5 pm in the evening. Since the contest was through a secret ballot, parties could not issue whips to their legislators, allowing for some cross-voting. The Election Commission had provided the lawmakers with special serial-numbered pens with violet ink; they were not allowed to carry their own pens into the voting chambers. Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and his Deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya were among the MPs who cast their votes in their respective state capitals.
It is reported that cross-voting took place during the polls, mostly to the advantage of the NDA candidate. Former Samajwadi Party state president Shivpal Yadav voted for Kovind, claiming that he did so on the directions of party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav; he stated that other party MLAs had followed suit. AAP had announced its support for Meira Kumar; however, the party’s Punja MLA H.S. Phoolka did not take part in the voting. He cited the 1984 riots in his defence, saying that he was not ready to back a Congress candidate. In Tripura, six Trinamool Congress MLAs—already dismissed by the party along with a Congress legislator—defied the party command and voted for Kovind.
Not just about the victory
BJP’s decision to cast Kovind as its candidate was not simply a way to win the Presidential elections; it was also a tactic to reach out to the Scheduled Caste population. The party has been working to move away from its image as a body for upper caste citizens. The recent selection of candidate simply adds to its list of measures to garner lower caste support, which range from promoting the legacy of Ambedkar to breaking bread in the homes of Dalits. These steps assume significance in light of the party drawing flak over incidents such as the suicide of Romith Vemula, a Dalit scholar, and the growing incidents of attacks on Dalits by cow vigilantes.
According to several opposition leaders, the NDA nominee is likely to get over 70% of the votes, making it quite comfortable for him to win the election. The announcement of the result on the 20th of July now seems like a mere formality, given that the majority has already predicted the outcome. Raisina Hill seems to be ready to host its first occupant from the ranks of BJP.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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