Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit BJP leader with humble beginnings, was on Thursday elected the 14th President of India defeating combined opposition candidate Meira Kumar in a straight fight by a huge margin, becoming the first BJP leader and one with RSS background to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Backed by 40 parties, including those outside the ruling NDA, Kovind, 71, a former MP and Bihar Governor, defeated Meira Kumar with a margin of a vote value of 334,730. Kovind was also helped by some cross voting in his favour in states like Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Delhi and Maharashtra.
He got 2,930 votes carrying a value of 700,244 while the former Lok Sabha Speaker secured 1,844 votes with a value of 367,314, the highest vote value recorded by any losing candidate in all the Presidential elections held so far.
The electoral college consisted of 4,986 voters with a total vote value of 10,98,903. Seventy seven votes with a value of 20,942 were found to be invalid.
While Kovind got 65.65 per cent of the total valid votes with a value of 10,69,358, Meira Kumar got 34.35 per cent. MPs and MLAs are eligible to vote in the Presidential election. Of the votes of MPs, Kovind got 522 compared to 225 by Meira Kumar.
The value of votes of MPs received by Kovind was 369,576 and that by Kumar was 159,300. In Andhra Pradesh, where Congress has one MLA, Meira Kumar drew a blank with all non-BJP parties voting for Kovind.
Announcing the election of Kovind, Returning Officer and Lok Sabha Secretary General Anoop Mishra said Kovind had got the required votes under the quota allotted to him in the preferential vote system under the Presidential and Vice Presidential Elections Act.
“I declare Ram Nath Kovind as duly elected to the Office of President,” he said at the end of the counting process that lasted more than five hours.
He will be the second Dalit President after K.R. Narayanan, who had occupied the office between 1997 and 2002. Kovind, who was the national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), headed the party’s Scheduled Caste Morcha for three years from 1999. He was actively associated with the RSS before joining the BJP.
Kovind, who practiced law in High Courts and the Supreme Court, said in his victory message that his election reflects the greatness of Indian democracy. He pledged to protect the Constitution and uphold its values and dedicated himself to work for the happiness of all sections.
Obviously tracing his roots, the President-elect said he represented all the hardworking people like the farm workers, labourers and poor and his election was a message to those people who earn their livelihood with hard work and honesty.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, Union Ministers and leaders of allied parties congratulated Kovind on his victory. “Best wishes for a fruitful and inspiring tenure,” Modi tweeted.
He also said he was gladdened by the extensive support for Kovind among MPs and across various states. “I thank members of the electoral college,” the Prime Minister said.
Shah said Kovind’s “truly historic” victory was for the poor, downtrodden and the marginalised and their aspirations.
Meira Kumar also congratulated Kovind. “I extend my good wishes to him as it has fallen upon him to uphold the Constitution of India in this most challenging time.”
Later, Modi, accompanied by Shah and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, visited Kovind’s residence here and greeted him. He presented a stole and a flower and offered him sweets.
The election of Kovind was already a settled affair given the numerical advantage of the BJP-led NDA in the electoral college. Several non-NDA parties including BJD, TRS, YSR Congress and the two factions of AIADMK also decided to support Kovind.
Janata Dal-United, which runs a coalition with RJD and Congress in Bihar, had broken ranks and supported Kovind.
The BJP had made efforts to maximise the victory margin of Kovind and there was cross-voting in some states in his favour, including by Samajwadi Party MLAs in his home state of Uttar Pradesh and by expelled Trinamool Congress MLAs in Tripura.
Meira Kumar was fielded by major opposition parties led by the Congress in what they called an “ideological battle” against the ruling combine.
Voting in the presidential election is by secret ballot and Meira Kumar had appealed for “conscience vote”. Congress President Sonia Gandhi had endorsed the appeal.
Congress leaders said Meira Kumar had put up a good fight and had secured one of the highest votes by an opposition-backed candidate.
Kovind led in counting from the beginning, which began at 11 a.m., and had established a massive lead of more than two lakh in vote value by the end of the second round of counting.