BJP favourite tipped to clinch In­dia poll

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

NEW DELHI: In­dia’s par­lia­ment be­gan vot­ing yes­ter­day for a new pres­i­dent in an elec­tion likely to be won by a can­di­date backed by the rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tight­en­ing its grip over top po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions.

Ram Nath Kovind’s as­cent to the high­est pub­lic of­fice would be the first by a leader who started out with the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh, or Na­tional Vol­un­teers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, a Hindu na­tion­al­ist men­tor of the BJP and its af­fil­i­ates.

The pres­i­dent’s role is largely cer­e­mo­nial but as the cus­to­dian of the con­sti­tu­tion, the pres­i­dent has played an im­por­tant role in times of un­cer­tainty, such as when a gen­eral elec­tion is in­con­clu­sive and a de­ci­sion has to be made about which party is best placed to form a govern­ment.

Kovind, 72, who is from the low­caste Dalit com­mu­nity, is fac­ing Meira Ku­mar, a for­mer par­lia­men­tary speaker and a fel­low-Dalit backed by the op­po­si­tion Congress party.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, among the first to cast his vote in par­lia­ment, said he looked for­ward to work­ing with Kovind.

“My govern­ment will of­fer full co-op­er­a­tion to him,” he told MPs from the rul­ing coali­tion.

Mem­bers of both houses of par­lia­ment and state as­sem­blies were due to vote yes­ter­day and bal­lots will be counted on Thurs­day. The BJP com­mands the most votes in par­lia­ment and in the states.

Some pres­i­dents, such as out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee, have tried to act as con­science-keep­ers, us­ing their con­sti­tu­tional author­ity as the head of state to de­fend In­dia’s found­ing prin­ci­ples as a sec­u­lar, di­verse democ­racy.

Modi’s ri­vals say mi­nor­ity Mus­lims have feared for their well­be­ing and have been tar­geted by fringe Hindu groups since he took of­fice in 2014.

So­nia Gandhi, the head of the Congress party, ap­pealed to mem­bers of par­lia­ment to vote for Ku­mar to pro­tect In­dia’s sec­u­lar val­ues. “We can­not and must not let In­dia be hostage to those who wish to im­pose upon it a nar­row-minded, di­vi­sive and com­mu­nal vi­sion,” she said.

PIC­TURE: EPA

Congress pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi, cen­tre right, and her son congress vice-pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi, cen­tre, leave af­ter cast­ing their votes at the par­lia­ment in New Delhi, yes­ter­day, when law­mak­ers be­gan vot­ing to elect a new pres­i­dent.

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