The numbers may tell a straightforward story, but there is symbolism in Monday’s contest between the BJP-led NDA’s Draupadi Murmu and the opposition’s Yashwant Sinha, as more than 4,000 MPs and MLAs vote to elect India’s next president. We do. Counting of votes and results are due on July 21.
So far, Murmu looks set for an easy victory – she needs over 50 per cent of the vote – as several non-NDA parties have also pledged to support her, mainly for her tribal identity. If elected, she would be the 15th President of India, and the first tribal person to hold the position – a largely ceremonial role in India’s parliamentary system.
Yashwant Sinha, a former bureaucrat who remained a minister in the BJP regime before the breakup a few years ago, made a moral pitch saying that the fight is not between individuals but between ideologies.
“This is a fight to save the Constitution of India and its ethos,” he said in his appeal to the “personal conscience” of MPs and MLAs. Here ‘individual’ is the keyword, as parties cannot tie their MLAs to any collective ‘whip’ in these elections. Each MP and MLA has a secret ballot which they can cast as they wish without fear of anti-defection law if they go against their party’s stand.
Still, Sinha hasn’t had much luck convincing people across the aisle.
He has the support of the Congress and the Left, apart from others in a group that was largely put together by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. He was chosen after three others – Maharashtra stalwart Sharad Pawar, former Jammu and Kashmir CM Farooq Abdullah and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi – declined the offer.
Sinha was hoping that his long innings in public life would help garner support. There was also a small window of great hope as the NDA—the reckoning party that formally aligns with the BJP-led group—was slightly short of a sure-shot victory mark. But that did not mean that everyone else was automatically anti-NDA.
Even Congress ally Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has decided to go along with former state governor Murmu. It didn’t matter that Sinha was once an MP from Jharkhand. Uddhav Thackeray’s dwarf Shiv Sena is also with Murmu.
These states have significant tribal population. For example in Andhra Pradesh all sides are with Murmu.
Time is also a factor.
The opposition clearly missed a trick when it announced an ex-BJP, upper caste man who has had a long political career as a candidate. When Murmu came into the ring – a woman from Odisha who is seen as a grassroots leader from a backward community – the equations changed. Those who were firmly in the anti-BJP camp suddenly had to reconsider.
Even CM Mamata seemed to accept it when she recently said, “If we got suggestions about who would be the (NDA’s) candidate, we could have discussed in an all-party meeting “. Sinha was in his party before becoming the candidate.
If Murmu wins, she will not only be the first tribal man to hold the top post, but the second woman overall; First President born in independent India; And the youngest ever at the age of 64.
The current president, Ram Nath Kovind – whose term ends on July 24 – was the second Dalit man to hold the office. Thus, the BJP is focusing on community identity while making political choices.
However, this process has its own sanctity.
Here is how the President of India is elected:
- On July 18, voting will be held in Parliament and respective assemblies from 10 am to 5 pm. Counting of votes will take place on July 21.
- Voters mark their choice for each candidate in a sequence. A candidate needs to cross the 50 percentile limit; If he falls short, his subsequent preference votes are counted. This is called the ‘Single Transferable Voting System’. The voter does not necessarily have to indicate preferences other than the first.
- EVMs are not used because the preference system is considered more efficient when done on paper; In order to maintain secrecy, the Election Commission has issued a special pen with purple ink for voters to mark the ballot papers.
- The system of secret ballot is followed and the parties cannot issue binding whips, so members are not required to vote as the party says.
- The value of each vote is determined by a formula that takes into account the number of seats in the assembly and the state’s population (as of the 1971 census).
- Value of vote of an MLA = total population / total members in the assembly X 1000. For Uttar Pradesh, it will be 8,38,49,905/403 X 1000 = 208 per voter.
- This is then done for all the states and union territories where there is an assembly, the total electoral value of the votes of all the MLAs comes to about 5.49 lakhs.
- After this the vote of the MP is valued. Total value of MLA votes / Total MPs. That is, 5.49 lakh will be divided by 776 = 708. This is the value of each MP’s vote. Nominated MPs or MLAs cannot vote. The total is just over 5.5 lakhs.
- Thus, the total voter value is around 11 lakhs. Counting NDA and non-NDA parties like Shiromani Akali Dal, JMM, YSRCP and others, Murmu has solved it with over 60 per cent votes. Cross-voting is possible, but the margin is wide.
- The President of India serves for five years.
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