India is set to elect its new president – the highest constitutional post in the country – on Monday, as the term of incumbent President Ram Nath Kovind will end on July 24. The results will be declared on Thursday.
A tribal lady Draupadi Murmu, with the support of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which also includes the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and senior politician Yashwant Sinha, the nominee of opposition parties are in the fray.
Unlike the prime minister, who is elected directly by the people as a member of parliament, the president in India is indirectly elected by an electoral college consisting of the 776 members of both houses of parliament, and 4,033 members of 28 provincial assemblies and centrally administered territories with legislatures.
The value of votes cast by elected members of the provincial legislative assemblies is determined by the population of the particular province. Similarly, the value of an MP's vote is calculated by dividing the total value of all provincial legislatures’ votes by the number of MPs. The assembly members of smaller states thus have the lesser value of their votes and those with higher populations possess greater value.
Therefore, 4,896 elected members of parliament and state legislatures with a total voting value of 1.086 million will vote for the next president. The winning candidate will need to cross the threshold of 543,216 votes.
The ruling alliance candidate Murmu who hailed from eastern Odisha state started her career as a teacher before joining politics. She was a BJP legislator as well. The 64-year-old woman in the past also served as vice-president of the ruling party's tribal wing.
Contesting against the Murmu is Yashwant Sinha, a senior Indian politician, who has headed finance and foreign ministries in the past.
Sinha, 84, who was also a member of India’s ruling BJP and the country’s foreign minister from 2002-2004 parted ways and has become a strong critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his policies. He recently joined the opposition Trinamool Congress (TMC) which is governing the West Bengal state.
Fight against ‘autocracy’
Earlier Sinha was also finance minister of India twice from 1990-1991 and then from 1998 –2002.
Since he was named as the presidential candidate, Sinha has been maintaining that the presidential election is a fight against “autocracy” and contesting the use of federal agencies to silence opposition.
Experts and political commentators believe that with numbers on their side, the ruling party candidate will have smooth sailing. Although the ruling alliance had just 48% votes in the electoral college, it has mustered the support of a few opposition parties to sail through.
"With Shiv Sena (party) deciding to back her, Draupadi Murmu's election to president's office is a nearly settled issue. If elected, she will be the first tribal person to hold the country's highest office," New Delhi-based political commentator Niranjan Sahoo told Anadolu Agency.
He said that while she was picked up by the Modi government to broaden the party's "tribal outreach as part of Hindu consolidation," Sahoo said she may not turn into a "complete rubber stamp" like her predecessor.
"She has shown her independent mind while serving as governor in Jharkhand, where she returned a controversial bill on tribal land issues despite the government in question was from her party (BJP)," he said.
He said that President Ram Nath Kovind's tenure is "largely unremarkable."
While the president in India is just an ornamental and ceremonial post, he leads all the constitutional entities and is also the supreme commander of the armed forces. All bills passed by the parliament can become laws only after receiving the assent of the president, as per the law.
The role of the president becomes crucial in case the parties fail to secure a simple majority in the elections and seek to form alliances or a minority government. Since the president appoints the prime minister and ensures that the person commands the support of the majority in the Lok Sabha (lower house), his role becomes vital in politically critical times.