Opposition in Tatters: Cross-Voting Helps BJP Record Kovind’s Win
Cross-voting in the presidential poll is a clear signal that unity in the Opposition is still a far cry.
- BJP, RSS make history – get an ideological fellow traveller, Ram Nath Kovind elected as President
- The polls are a grim message to the Opposition and the Congress in particular
- The election was marred by cross-voting in many states
- Fall-out : Gujarat Congress may head towards a split
- The Congress is now to ensure that its legislators do not cross vote on 5 August in the vice presidential election
The BJP and RSS created history of sorts on Thursday when for the first time since Independence, its nominee Ramnath Kovind was elected the 14th President with an overwhelming majority. He trounced his lone rival Meira Kumar, the candidate of 17 party Opposition conglomerate, by securing over 65 per cent of the vote share and seven lakh plus votes as against Kumar’s 3.6 lakh votes (34.35 per cent of the total votes).
While the outcome of the election was more or less on expected lines, it was marred by cross-voting in many states – Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Assam, West Bengal, Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa. What is even more jarring for the Congress is that some of its legislators from states like Gujarat, Goa, Arunachal and Assam voted for the BJP candidate. Though no whip is required to be issued in presidential and vice presidential elections, the legislators are supposed to toe the party line.
Grim Reminder to Congress
For the Congress, the grimmest message came from Gujarat, where between eight to 11 of its lawmakers cross voted for the BJP candidate signalling that the party’s faction-ridden state unit could split with senior leader Shankersinh Vaghela on a warpath for not being projected as the chief ministerial candidate ahead of the assembly polls later this year. State president Bharatsinh Solanki, opposed to Vaghela, is also a claimant for the top post.
Cross-voting also indicates that Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Patel, may find it difficult to get re-elected to the Upper House (election due early next month) from the state. A sulking Vaghela had a few meetings with top BJP leaders in the recent past.
The BJP has 121 MLAs in the 182-member House, the Congress 57, the NCP two, the Gujarat Parivartan Party and the Janata Dal (U) have one each. The latter boycotted the polls. Meira Kumar got 49 votes though she should have secured 57 (Congress) and 2 (NCP) and one GPP. As against its strength of 121 legislators, Kovind got a total of 132 votes from Gujarat – a surplus of 11 votes.
While Congress sources admitted that eight party MLAs cross voted for the BJP candidate, Gujarat Chief Minister Rupani claimed that 11 Congress legislators backed Kovind. A rattled Congress high command has asked former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who was recently appointed AICC General Secretary in-charge of Gujarat, to immediately identify the cross-voters and submit a report.
The message from Goa is equally grim. Meira Kumar got only 11 votes though the Congress has 17 MLAs and the NCP one. The BJP bagged only 13 seats in the 40-member Goa House and yet it was able to form the government – courtesy an insipid party high command and squabbling state leaders for the CM post. Few Congress lawmakers from Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam also ditched Kumar. From Andhra, the Opposition candidate did not get a single vote, the only state where Kumar drew a blank.
Cross-Voting from Other States
In West Bengal, which recorded the maximum invalid votes (ten) followed by Delhi (six), the BJP candidate got a total of 11 votes against NDA’s strength of six votes.
In Uttar Pradesh, a few MLAs belonging to the Shivpal Singh faction of the Samajwadi Party also broke ranks to vote for Kovind.
Cross-voting was reported from Maharashtra also where the BJP nominee got 20 more votes than the strength of NDA. Few legislators from the Congress, NCP, SP have apparently switched camps.
However, the Congress got a consolation prize in the form of reverse cross-voting in Rajasthan where Meira Kumar got six votes more (from BJP) than anticipated. The Congress has 24 MLAs, plus two BSP legislators and two independents while Kumar secured 34 votes.
Congress Needs to Keep a Vigil for Vice Presidential Polls
Two main takeaways from the result are: While it is a political and psychological victory for the BJP, it does not augur well for the Opposition and the Congress in particular.
The Congress has now to ensure that its legislators do not cross vote on 5 August in the vice presidential election where BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu is pitted against Opposition’s Gopal Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. The JDU and the BJD, which broke Opposition unity to back BJP’s presidential candidate, have since returned to the Opposition camp supporting Gopal Gandhi.
Even though Venkaiah Naidu is expected to win with a huge majority, the 18-party coalition should ensure that its constituents and legislators do not cross vote so as to offer a credible alternative political platform to the people ahead of the 2019 general election. Cross voting in the presidential poll is a clear signal that unity in the Opposition is still a far cry.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be reached @benedict18. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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