NEW DELHI(PTI): As lawmakers voted to elect India’s next president, the ruling BJP exuded today confidence that NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind would win with a “comfortable” margin, while the opposition said its joint pick Meira Kumar was the best choice in the “clash of ideologies”. “Kovind ji will win (the election) with a respectable and comfortable margin,” Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu told reporters ahead of the polling.
Naidu, however, refused to comment on the BJP parliamentary board’s meeting to choose the ruling alliance’s vice-presidential candidate. Let the presidential poll get over first, he said.
Another Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Kovind will register a “decisive victory” and would turn out as an “honest” president, who, he said, will work hard according to the Constitution.
“It would have been better if there was consensus (among all parties over Kovind’s nomination). But no issues,” he said.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said the fight between Kovind and Kumar was “one of ideologies” and rated the latter as the best choice for the president’s post.
“The president should be a person pursuing an ideology under which everybody should be equal for him. And when there is a clash of ideologies, I think our candidate (Kumar) is the best,” Azad, the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, said.
Backing Kumar, the CPI(M) urged voters, comprising MPs and MLAs, to pick the “custodian of the Constitution” thoughtfully.
“Hope the electoral college picks the custodian of India’s Constitution thoughtfully….Vote to uphold constitutional values of our republic,” party general secretary Sitaram Yechury said on Twitter.
Yechury and senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge asked all MPs and MLAs exercising their franchise to vote according to their “inner conscience”.
“We believe in democracy and that’s why we are contesting (the poll). All the voters, including those from the BJP, should also vote as per their conscience,” Kharge said.
With both Kovind and Kumar belonging to the Dalit community, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati expressed satisfaction that a Dalit leader would occupy the office of the president irrespective of who won the poll.
Mayawati also claimed it was because of her party that the NDA and the opposition had to field candidates from the community.
“Winning or losing (a poll) is a different issue. Whoever wins, the good thing is a Scheduled Caste person will be the country’s president. And I think it is a good thing for our movement, the party.
“And the NDA, the BJP had to field a Dalit candidate for the presidential poll because of the BSP and the other side (the opposition) too,” she told reporters outside Parliament.
The voting for the presidential poll began at 10 am and will continue till 5 pm.
The result of the poll will be declared on July 20.
Cross-voting by TMC MLAs in Tripura
Sacked MLAs of Trinamool Congress (TMC) and one opposition Congress MLA out of the total 60 in Tripura assembly today voted for NDA s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind.
We six MLAs have cast our votes in favour of Ramnath Kovind. We had announced it earlier itself because we cannot vote for a candidate who was supported by CPI-M,” Sudip Burman, leader of the group of sacked TMC MLAs told reporters.
Burman and five other MLAs were sacked from TMC after they had openly announced their support for Kovind.
Rebel Congress MLA Ratan Lal Nath, who too had earlier announced that he would vote for the NDA candidate, told newsmen that he had voted for Kovind.
Additional Chief Electoral Officer Debasish Modak said Speaker Ramendra Chandra Debnath cast his vote in West Bengal assembly as he is in Kolkata for treatment, while the two Lok Sabha members from the state and its lone Rajya Sabha member voted in the Parliament in Delhi.
Fifty MLAs of the ruling Left Front including Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, Finance Minister Bhanu Lal Saha and Health Minister Badal Chowdhury cast their votes in the state assembly.
Two other Congress MLAs – Birajit Sinha and Gopal Roy also exercised their franchise here.
All the 175 MLAs in Andhra Pradesh exercised their franchise in the presidential election today.
The polling took place smoothly at the committee hall in the AP Legislature building at Velagapudi.
Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and Assembly Speaker Kodela Sivaprasada Rao were the first to cast their votes.
The four BJP MLAs also cast their votes along with their ally.
Leader of Opposition and YSR Congress president Y S Jaganmohan Reddy led his party MLAs for the voting.
However, two of the votes were likely to become invalid since two TDP legislators reportedly wrote their names on the ballot paper.
This came to light after the polling when the chief minister held a meeting with his MLAs, according to TDP sources.
The MP from Narsaraopet, Rayapati Sambasiva Rao, also cast his vote in the Assembly by obtaining special permission from the Election Commission because of personal reasons.
All the 175 MLAs in the AP Assembly, including those of the lone opposition YSRC, pledged their support to the NDA presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind.
The Congress has four members in Rajya Sabha and none in Lok Sabha and the state Assembly.
NCP rubbishes rumours of cross-voting
The NCP today rubbished “rumours” that some of its MLAs and MPs may indulge in cross-voting in the presidential election and asserted that the party stands firmly with the UPA candidate Meira Kumar.
“The rumours that NCP MPs and MLAs are voting for the NDA presidential candidate are false. We are voting for our candidate Meira Kumar,” NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said here.
He said the party has been with Kumar throughout her candidature process and during the filing of her nomination papers.
“All rumours are baseless and should be ignored,” he said.
Meanwhile, a BJP leader claimed that besides the NDA’s share of 186 votes in the state, the alliance hopes to increase its tally to 205 with a split in the UPA camp.
Sources in the NDA camp said Independent MLA Ravi Rana has claimed that about 14 to 15 MLAs from the opposition Congress-NCP led UPA camp are in touch with the BJP-led NDA camp.
In the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly, the BJP has 122 members, Sena-63, Congress-42, NCP-41, Peasants and Workers Party of India (PWP-I)- three, Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA)- three, MIM – two, MNS, Samajwadi Party, BBM, CPI-M and RSP – one each and Independents – seven.
Of the 48 Lok Sabha members from the state, 23 are from the BJP, 18 from the Shiv Sena, four of the NCP, two from the Congress and one independent.
Out of the 19 Rajya Sabha members from the state, the BJP and the NCP have five each, Congress-four, Sena-three, and RPI-A and Independent-one each.
In all, there are 355 votes – comprising 288 MLAs, 48 Lok Sabha and 19 Rajya Sabha MPs from the state. Out of this, the BJP-led NDA has 248 votes that comprises 199 MLAs and 49 MPs.
The Congress-led UPA has 104 votes that comprises 8 MLAs and 16 MPs. The total value of votes of the 248 NDA votes is 69,517, whereas the total value of votes of 104 UPA votes is 26,728.