In­dian law­mak­ers vote for next pres­i­dent

NDA can­di­date Ram Nath Kovind likely to de­feat Congress-led op­po­si­tion nom­i­nee Meira Ku­mar

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

New Delhi, In­dia - In­dian law­mak­ers voted on Mon­day for a new pres­i­dent cer­tain to come from the bot­tom of the Hindu caste sys­tem, in an elec­tion seen as strength­en­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s grip on power.

Some 4,900 leg­is­la­tors na­tion­wide voted in what Modi termed a ‘ his­toric’ elec­tion to choose the tit­u­lar head of state.

Ram Nath Kovind, the can­di­date of Modi's rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a for­mer lawyer and state gov­er­nor from the Dalit com­mu­nity, is cer­tain to win.

His main ri­val is Meira Ku­mar, the nom­i­nee of the Congress-led op­po­si­tion and also a Dalit.

But the BJP, which won a land­slide in a gen­eral elec­tion in 2014, has for the first time as­sem­bled enough elec­toral col­lege votes across the coun­try to push through its pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Congress has tra­di­tion­ally dom­i­nated the post.

“There is no rocket sci­ence, Ram Nath Kovind will win to­day,” Pra­ful Pa­tel, a leader of the small op­po­si­tion Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party, con­ceded as he cast his vote.

Modi was among the first to vote, us­ing a spe­cially ap­proved vi­o­let ink pen. The elec­tion com­mis­sion barred the use of per­sonal pens to en­sure clean vot­ing.

The re­sult will be an­nounced on Thurs­day.

‘The pres­i­den­tial poll this time is his­toric. Prob­a­bly for the first time no party has made any undig­ni­fied or un­war­ranted com­ment on the ri­val can­di­date’, Modi tweeted on the eve of the poll.

Dalit at­tack

“Ev­ery po­lit­i­cal party has kept in mind the dig­nity of this elec­tion.”

In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter wields ex­ec­u­tive power, but the pres­i­dent can send back some par­lia­men­tary bills for re­con­sid­er­a­tion and also plays a guid­ing role in the process of form­ing gov­ern­ments.

An­a­lysts said the elec­tion of Kovind (71) would help Modi tighten his grip on power and ac­crue po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal by send­ing an im­por­tant mes­sage to the Dal­its, a long-dis­dained elec­toral group once known as ‘un­touch­ables’.

Dal­its, who num­ber around 200mn in the na­tion of 1.3bn, are among In­dia’s poor­est com­mu­ni­ties and rel­e­gated to the mar­gins of so­ci­ety.

De­spite le­gal pro­tec­tion, dis- crim­i­na­tion is rife and Dal­its are rou­tinely de­nied ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and other ad­vance­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

On the day of the vote, me­dia re­ported the case of a Dalit labourer al­legedly beaten to death by up­per-caste at­tack­ers, high­light­ing the plight of the ‘un­touch­able’ caste.

Modi’s ri­vals have protested at Kovind’s nom­i­na­tion, cit­ing his as­so­ci­a­tion with the rad­i­cal rightwing Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh, the ide­o­log­i­cal power be­hind the BJP.

The op­po­si­tion nom­i­nee Ku­mar, the daugh­ter of free­dom fighter Babu Jagji­van Ram, was a diplo­mat be­fore en­ter­ing pol­i­tics in 1985 and be­came In­dia’s first woman speaker in 2009.

Her nom­i­na­tion, which fol­lowed Kovind’s, was seen by many as an op­po­si­tion at­tempt to counter Modi’s move to woo Dal­its.

Congress pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi ral­lied op­po­si­tion ranks be­fore the vote, call­ing the con­test a ‘clash of ideas and a con­flict of dis­parate val­ues’.


Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment (MPs) stand in a queue to cast their votes to elect the next pres­i­dent at Par­lia­ment House, in New Delhi on Mon­day

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