On July 18, elected MLAs and MPs across the country will vote to elect India’s 15th President. Under Article 62(1) of the Constitution, “an election to fill a vacancy caused by the expiration of the term of office of President shall be completed before the expiration of the term”. President Ram Nath Kovind’s tenure ends on July 25.
A look at the process for electing the President, parties’ relative strengths currently, and how previous elections have played out.
What is the election process?
The President is elected by an electoral college consisting of MPs of both Houses of Parliament and MLAs of the states and Delhi and Puducherry. Nominated members of Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha and the Assemblies, and members of state Legislative Councils, are not part of the electoral college.
The votes are weighted, their value determined by the population of each state as per Census 1971. The value of each MLA’s vote varies from a high of 208 in Uttar Pradesh to a low of 7 in Sikkim. This means that UP’s 403 MLAs contribute 208 × 403 = 83,824 votes to the electoral pool, while Sikkim’s 32 MLAs contribute 32 × 7 = 224 votes. The weighted votes from all the Assemblies add up to 5.43 lakh.
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The process demands that the 776 MPs (543 in Lok Sabha, 233 in Rajya Sabha) should contribute the same total of votes as the MLAs. Thus, the value of each MP’s vote is 5.43 lakh divided by 776, rounded off to 700. The combined electoral pool from the Assemblies and Parliament adds up to 10.86 lakh.
How are the ruling alliance and the opposition placed?
The BJP-led NDA is far ahead of the Congress and its allies, but still short of the halfway mark at the moment. Adding up the votes of the MLAs and MPs on either side, but not counting the 57 vacant Rajya Sabha seats (16 of which go to polls on Friday while the other 41 have had MPs elected unopposed), the NDA has 48% of the votes (BJP 42% and allies 6%), while the Congress (13.5%) and its allies (10.5%) have 24%. These allies include the DMK, Shiv Sena, NCP, JMM and smaller parties like the Muslim League, VCK, RSP and MDMK.
Beyond the two alliances, the Trinamool Congress has 5.4%, YSRCP 4%, Biju Janata Dal 2.85%, and the Left parties 2.5%, with the rest of the votes held by various parties.
The BJP is banking on the YSRCP and the BJD and some other parties to support its candidate. Support from either YSRCP or BJD would take the NDA candidate beyond the halfway mark. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 30, and Andhra Pradesh CM YS Jagan Mohan Reddy called on the PM last week.
On the Opposition side, it remains to be seen which way the TRS, Samajwadi Party and AAP will vote. The TRS, which was once considered a fence-sitter and even backed the government on some key Bills, has been attacking the BJP of late. The AAP is at loggerheads with both the Congress and the BJP.
How keenly answered have previous elections been?
1952: The first election was a no-contest. Rajendra Prasad won with 5,07,400 votes. Chaudhary Hari Ram polled 1,954, contesting because he did not want Prasad to be elected unopposed. The Left fielded KT Shah, a former alumnus of the London School of Economics and a member of the Constituent Assembly, who got 92,827 votes. The fray also had Thatte Lakshman Ganesh (2,672) and Krishna Kumar Chatterjee (533).
1957: Prasad was fielded for a second by the Congress. It was again a no-contest: he got 4,59,698 votes against Nagendra Narayan Das (2,000) and Chowdhry Hari Ram (2,672).
1962: The Congress fielded Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, who was Vice President during President Prasad’s tenure. He got 5,53,067 votes against Chowdhry Hari Ram (6,341) and Yamuna Prasad Trisulia (3,537).
1967: The Congress candidate, Vice President Zakir Hussain, won 4,71,244 votes against Kota Subbarao (3,63,971). Subbarao, who retired as Chief Justice of India that year, was the Opposition’s consensus candidate.
1969: This election, necessitated by the sudden passing of President Hussain, was the most controversial of them all. Under Article 65(1) of the Constitution, Vice-President VV Giri assumed office as acting President, but resigned in July 1969 as Vice President and also as acting President. Tensions within the Congress — between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and a group of veterans known as the Syndicate — came to a head when the party officially fielded Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy while Gandhi threw her weight behind Giri, contesting as an independent. She famously called on party MPs and MLAs to vote according to conscience. Giri won with 4,01,515 votes to Reddy’s 3,13,548. The Congress split after then party president S Nijalingappa expelled Gandhi. Among other candidates, CD Deshmukh, fielded by Swatantra Party and Jana Sangh, polled 1,12,769. There were 12 more in the fray, and the law was changed to prevent non-serious candidates from contesting.
1974: The Congress fielded Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, and the opposition veteran Tridib Chaudhuri, a Lok Sabha MP from the Revolutionary Socialist Party. Ahmed polled 7,65,587 votes to Chaudhuri’s 1,89,196.
1977: Following Ahmed’s death, Vice President BD Jatti took over as acting President. When the poll was held, 37 candidates filed their papers but on scrutiny all but one were rejected. The only valid one was Congress’s Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, who was elected.
1982: The Congress’s Giani Zail Singh (7,54,113 votes) won against HR Khanna (2,82,685). Nine opposition parties had fielded Khanna, a Supreme Court judge who had resigned in protest against the appointment of MH Baig as CJI in 1977. Khanna had come into prominence a year before, when he disagreed with majority judges that Article 21 can be suspended by the declaration of Emergency.
1987: The Left parties fielded legal luminary and former Supreme Court Justice VR Krishna Iyer against incumbent Vice President R Venkataraman, who won comfortably (7,40,148 votes against Iyer’s 2,81,550). The third contestant Mithilesh Kumar, an independent candidate from Bihar, got 2,223 votes. The elections became politically interesting as incumbent President Singh, whose equations with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had hit a low, was prodded to contest as an independent candidate by some Congress dissidents and Devi Lal of the Lok Dal(B), but he declined.
1992: The Congress’s Shanker Dayal Sharma (6,75,804 votes) won comfortably against the opposition’s George Gilbert Swell (3,46,485), a former Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker, a former Ambassador Norway and Burma, and a tribal who was a force behind the movement that culminated in statehood for Meghalaya. His candidacy of him was pushed by former Prime Minister VP Singh and the BJP backed him. Two others were in the fray: Ram Jethmalani (2,704 votes) and the famous Kaka Joginder Singh aka Dharti-Pakad (1,135), who contested — and lost — over 300 elections during his lifetime.
1997: KR Narayanan, fielded by parties in the United Front government and the Congress and backed by the opposition BJP, won one of the most one-sided polls ever, polling 956,290 votes against former Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan’s 50,361. Seshan had the support of the Shiv Sena and some independent MLAs.
2002: The Congress and most opposition parties decided to back scientist APJ Abdul Kalam, the BJP’s choice. The Left fielded Captain Lakshmi Sahgal. Kalam (9,22,884) won a one-sided contest against Sahgal (1,07,366).
2007: Pratibha Patil, the UPA-Left nominee, became India’s first woman President with 6,38,116 votes against BJP candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (3,31,306). The Shiv Sena, then part of the NDA, chose to back Patil, who is from Maharashtra.
2012: UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee became the 13th President, polling 713,763 votes against the BJP’s PA Sangma (3,15,987).
2017: In the last election, the Opposition fielded former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar against Kovind. She had the support of 17 Opposition parties but the JD(U) chose to support Kovind. Kovind bagged 7,02,044 votes, and Kumar 3,67,314.
With inputs from Anisha Dutta
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