MPs, MLAs to Elect India’s 15th President on Monday

Numbers may tell a straight story but there is symbolism at play in the contest between BJP-led NDA’s Droupadi Murmu and the opposition’s Yashwant Sinha on Monday, as more than 4,000 MPs and MLAs vote to elect the next President of India. Counting and results are scheduled for July 21.

So far, Murmu looks set for an easy victory – she needs over 50 per cent votes — as several non-NDA parties, too, have pledged support to her, primarily for her tribal identity. If elected, she will be the 15th President of India, and the first tribal person to hold the post – a largely ceremonial role in India’s parliamentary system.

Yashwant Sinha, a former bureaucrat who remained a minister in BJP regimes before a breakup some years ago, has made a moral pitch, saying that the battle is not between individuals but between ideologies.

“It’s a fight to save India’s constitution and its ethos,” he said in his appeal to the “individual conscience” of the MPs and MLAs. ‘Individual’ is the keyword here, as parties cannot bind their legislators by any collective ‘whip’ in these polls. Every MP and MLA has a secret ballot that can be cast as they please, with no fear of the anti-defection law if they go against their party’s stand.

Yet, Sinha hasn’t had much luck with convincing people across the aisle.

He is backed by the Congress and the Left, besides others in a group that was put together, largely, by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. He was chosen after three others – Maharashtra veteran Sharad Pawar, former J&K CM Farooq Abdullah and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi – declined the offer.

Sinha was hoping his long innings in public life will help gather support. There was also a small window of greater hope as the NDA – counting parties that are formally with the BJP-led group – was a little short of a sure-shot victory mark. But that didn’t mean the rest were all anti-NDA automatically.

Identity matters

Even the Congress’s partner Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has chosen to go with Murmu, a former governor of the state. It didn’t matter that Sinha was once an MP from Jharkhand. Uddhav Thackeray’s stunted Shiv Sena is also with Murmu.
These states have significant tribal populations. In Andhra Pradesh, for instance, all sides are with Murmu.
Timing is a reason, too.

The opposition apparently missed a trick when it declared an ex-BJP, upper caste man who has had a long political career as its candidate. When Murmu walked into the ring – a woman from Odisha who is seen as a grassroots leader from a backward community — equations turned around. Those who were firmly in the anti-BJP camp suddenly had to rethink.

Even CM Mamata appeared to acknowledge this when she recently said “had we got suggestions about who the (NDA’s) candidate would be, we could’ve discussed at the all-party meeting”. Sinha was in her party before becoming the candidate.

If Murmu wins, she will not just be the first tribal person to hold the top post but also be just the second woman overall; the first President born in Independent India; and the youngest ever at 64.

The current President, Ram Nath Kovind – whose stint ends July 24 — was just the second Dalit person to hold the post. The BJP, thus, has been focusing on community identity when making political choices, even if merely symbolic.

The process, however, has its own sanctity.

Here’s how the President of India is elected:

  • Voting takes place at Parliament and in respective assemblies, 10 am to 5 pm, July 18. Counting will be on July 21.
  • Voters mark their preferences for each candidate in an order. A candidate needs to cross the 50 per cent threshold; if he/she falls short, then the subsequent preference votes are counted. This is called ‘single transferable voting system’. The voter does not necessarily have to mark preferences other than the first.
  • EVMs are not used as the preference system is believed to be more efficient when done on paper; to maintain secrecy, Election Commission has issued a special pen with violet ink for the voters to mark the ballot papersz
  • The system of secret ballot is followed and parties cannot issue a binding whip, so members do not have 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 population of the state (as per 1971 census)
  • Value of a vote of an MLA = Total population/ Total members in assembly X 1000. For Uttar Pradesh, that’ll be 8,38,49,905/403 X 1000 = 208 per elector.
  • After this is done for all states and UTs that have an assembly, the total electoral value of all MLA votes comes to around 5.49 lakh.
  • The MP’s vote is valued after this. Total value of MLA votes/Total MPs. That’ll be 5.49 lakh divided by 776 = 708. That’s the value of each MP’s vote. Nominated MPs or MLAs can’t vote. The total is just over 5.5 lakh.
  • Total electorate value, thus, is around 11 lakh. Counting NDA plus the non-NDA parties such as Shiromani Akali Dal, JMM, YSRCP and other, Murmu has it sorted, 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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