New Delhi: NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind has been elected as India’s 14th President, receiving an overwhelming majority of votes from the country's lawmakers. He is the first BJP member to be elected President.
Kovind soundly defeated opposition's Meira Kumar, a former Lok Sabha speaker, garnering around 66 percent of the votes in the Electoral College, the Returning Officer for the poll announced on Thursday.
The 71-year-old, a former Bihar governor, will be the second Dalit to hold the top constitutional position. He received 2,930 votes with a value of 7,02,044, the returning officer, Anoop Mishra, said. Kumar, also a Dalit, polled in 1,844 votes with a value of 3,67,314. He will take oath on July 25, succeeding President Pranab Mukherjee, for a five-year term.
In his victory speech from 10 Akbar Road, the President-elect said it was an emotional time for him and thanked and congratulated his opponent Kumar for putting up a tough challenge. He said it was an honour for him to follow in the footsteps of luminaries like Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and Pranab Mukherjee.
“I will represent all those struggling to make a living. My election as the President is evidence of the greatness of Indian democracy,” said Kovind, who is the first BJP member to be elected President.
As soon as news started pouring in that Kovind had crossed the magic mark to be elected the next President, congratulatory messages started pouring in on phone as well as on social media. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the first to wish Kovind. In a series of tweets, the PM said he hopes Kovind has a fruitful and inspiring tenure.
“Gladdened by the extensive support for Shri Ram Nath Kovind Ji among MPs & across various states. I thank members of the electoral college,” Modi tweeted. He also congratulated Meira Kumar, saying her campaign was in the “spirit of the democratic ethos & values we all are proud of.”
Soon after, the Kovind met Modi, who put a piece of sweetmeat in his mouth after putting a stole around his neck, as BJP President Amit Shah looked on. “The election of Shri Ram Nath Kovind ji is a victory for the poor, downtrodden & marginalised and their aspirations,” Shah said. BJP patriarch LK Advani also called Kovind to congratulate him.
The NDA nominee’s win was a foregone conclusion as 40 parties, including many from outside the NDA, had pledged to support him. Even before votes were cast on Monday, Kovind was expected to garner over 60 percent of the ballot.
The polling was marked by cross-voting in various states, especially in the Hindi heartland, where many opposition members favoured Kovind. Meira Kumar’s ideology plank failed to swing the pendulum in her favour, but even in her concession speech on Thursday afternoon, she said the battle of ideology will continue.
“My best wishes to Kovind ji, it is upon him to uphold the Constitution in letter and spirit in these challenging times. I want to thank opposition leaders, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi ji. My fight for secularism will continue,” Kumar said.
Kovind's victory is partly due to the BJP's massive victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections earlier this year. This gave the party a big boost in the electoral college numbers.
Even after the UP poll victory, the BJP-led NDA was slightly short of majority and had to rely on the support of non-NDA parties such as TRS in Telangana, AIADMK factions and DMK in Tamil Nadu, the JD(U) in Bihar, and BJD in Odisha.
But the party played a masterstroke by fielding a Dalit candidate as part of its outreach to woo the backward communities, which several opposition parties found difficult to oppose given the political sensitivites. This forced the Opposition to follow suit and put up Kumar, a diplomat-turned-politician, in a Dalit vs Dalit fight.
Among those who congratulated Kovind were Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, a host of chief ministers and other politicians.