Ever since Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar first floated the idea of nominating a united opposition candidate – which he eventually backed out of – the Congress and other like-minded parties had drummed up the idea of a united opposition that would have eventually firm up to challenge the National Democratic Alliance going into the Lok Sabha polls of 2019. That perceived unity was dealt the first blow, and a mighty one at that, by Nitish when he switched camps the moment NDA announced the candidature of then Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind.
While Kovind’s win over Meira Kumar, the candidate opposition portrayed as ‘Bihar Ki Beti’, was seen as reactionary and entrenched deeply in caste politics. Kovind’s emphatic win was predictable from day one. However, the numbers rolled out today by the Election Commission of India should come as a worry for Congress. The ‘battle of ideologies’ – something that the Congress christened the presidential battle as – appears to be failing and has damaged its claims of a united opposition it had hoped to stitch together.
Tabulation of votes in the presidential elections is a complicated exercise. Each parliamentarian and legislator carries a certain value of votes that differ from every state. Moreover, the EC forbids parties to issue whips to ensure that a member either of the Parliament or the legislative Assembly votes for its choice of candidate. The absence of this whip appears to have done some damage to the opposition.
The results announced today have shown a sweeping majority for NDA candidate. While victory was a given, the apparent cross-voting in the elections neither bodes well for the Congress’s idea of a united opposition nor its ‘battle of ideology’.
Here is what the numbers say. EC statistics suggest as many as 15 Members of Parliament – both in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha – voted against Kumar. This number is arrived at the total number of votes of parties that had pledged support for the opposition candidate. According to the Election Commission, out of 776 MPs (543 in Lok Sabha + 233 in Rajya Sabha), 768 MPs had exercised their franchise on July 17 when polling was held. When the ballot boxes were opened today, 21 votes were declared invalid on technical grounds, thus bringing down the strength of total valid votes to 747.
The 17 opposition parties that pledged support to Kumar have 238 MPs in both Houses. However, only 225 MPs voted for Kumar, including AAP and AIMIM who have 4 and one MPs each respectively in the Lower House.
Voting pattern in states where cross-voting is likely to have taken place:
In Maharashtra, Kovind secured votes of 208 MLAs. The total number of NDA legislators (BJP + Shiv Sena) is 185 in 288-member House. The combined number of Congress, NCP, AIMIM, CPI(M) and SP MLAs is 87 but Meira Kumar managed to bag votes of 49 lawmakers. The Congress alone has 42 members in the House. It would be hard to say who voted for whom but it is likely that the MLAs from Sharad Pawar's NCP chose to vote for NDA candidate instead of Kumar, whom the party leadership had endorsed.
Maharashtra: Kovind - 208 (36,400 vote value) Kumar - 77 (13,475 vote value)
Kovind secured support of 132 MLAs in the 182-member House where the BJP has only legislators. It appears that all of Congress' 57 MLAs did not vote for Meira as she only secured 49 votes. The NCP has 2 MLAs and the JD(U) has one member in the House.
Gujarat: Kovind - 132 votes (vote value 19,404), Kumar - 49 (votes valued 7,203)
The cross-voting against the Congress in Gujarat is a huge blow to the party that is seeking to return to power in the state after a gap of over two decades. The party is already facing a sort of revolt as the Leader of Opposition Shankersinh Vaghela seems to be unhappy with the high-command. The voting pattern in Gujarat in the Presidential election reflects the grand old party failed to consolidate its MLAs behind Meira.
The state carries most value to each vote as it has highest population per MLA, so any cross voting in UP would hugely impact the result in Kovind's favour. The NDA (BJP+AD(S)+SBSP) has 325 MLAs in the House of 402 elected members but Kovind succeeded in securing 335 votes. On the other hand Meira Kumar got only 65 votes against combined strenght of 74 of the Congress, the SP and the BSP.
Uttar Pradesh: Kovind - 335 (69,680 vote value) Kumar - 65 (13,520 vote value)
The cross-voting in Uttar Pradesh has not come as a surprise to many as Samajwadi Party's Shivpal Singh Yadav had already announced that he, along with some other MLAs would vote for Kovind against party leadership's wishes.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been one of the most vocal critics of the BJP and was at the forefront of the Opposition unity. Banerjee’s TMC, Congress and the Left had supported Meira Kumar in the Presidential election and their combined strength in the 294-member Assembly is 281. However, Meira Kumar secured only 273 votes and 10 votes were declared invalid. On the other hand, Kovind secure 11 votes despite the NDA (BJP+GJM) having only 6 members in the House.
West Bengal: Kovind - 11 (1661 vote value) Kumar- 273 (35,763 vote value), Invalid - 10
Any cross-voting in Tripura would have come as a surprise because the TMC MLAs had already declared that they will vote in favour of Kovind. But 7 votes for the NDA candidate has come as a surprise to many as the TMC has only two MLAs in the 60-member House. While the Left parties have 51 legislators, the Congress has 7 MLAs. Thus at least 5 votes from either the Left or the Congress were cast in the favour of Kovind.
Tripura: Kovind - 7 (182 vote value), Kumar - 53 (1378 vote value)
The voting results from Madhya Pradesh also indicate a cross-voting pattern where Kovind has secured more votes than BJP MLAs and Meira Kumar getting less votes than the combined number of legislators of the Congress and the BSP. In 230-member Assembly, BJP has 165 MLAs while the Congress and the BSP have 56 and four members, respectively. However, Kovind got 171 votes while Meira received only 57 votes.
Madhya Pradesh: Kovind - 171 (22,402 vote value) Kumar - 57 (7,467 vote value)