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U-turns but advantage Pratibha
R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

Congress president Sonia Gandhi after casting her vote for the Presidential election at Parliament House in New Delhi
Congress president Sonia Gandhi after casting her vote for the Presidential election at Parliament House in New Delhi on Thursday.
— A Tribune photograph

New Delhi, July 19
Legislators across the country today voted to elect the 13th President, with UPA-Left candidate Pratibha Patil all set to become the first woman to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan as the Head of the State.

The voting went amidst last minute dramatic decision by the AIADMK, the constituent of the newly-formed United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) to vote favour of the NDA despite the alliance earlier announcing to abstain from voting.

The decision of the AIADMK to go against the stand of the UNPA created a flutter in the political circles and was seen as a setback to emergence of the Third Front to emerge as an alternative political force to ruling UPA and Opposition NDA.

However, polling during the day was a colourful affair with parliamentarians standing in line much before the scheduled time and polling officials disallowing mobile phones in the booth.

Altogether, 636 out of 776 MPs cast their votes in the presidential polls in Parliament House, the Election Commission said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were among the first to cast their votes. Manmohan Singh flashed a victory symbol to reporters but did not talk to them. Sonia Gandhi closely followed him. A host of union ministers, including Lalu Prasad, P Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal and Shivraj Patil, also voted in the initial hours.

Due to the huge difference in the vote value between UPA and NDA, the poll managers of ruling alliance were certain of Patil’s victory with a huge margin. They claimed that the confirmed votes of the NDA were only 3,14,411, against the UPA’s combined tally of 6,31,464 votes for the UPA and it supporting parties.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar came with his party MPs, including daughter Supriya Sule and union minister Praful Patel, to vote.

Dayanidhi Maran, who was axed as a union minister following a rift with DMK chief M Karunanidhi, came to vote a few minutes after other party MPs and union ministers cast their ballots.

The newly-formed UNPA or Third Front said it would abstain from voting, a decision announced by AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa here last week, but her party, a key member of the grouping, decided to participate in the election.

The regional party from Tamil Nadu decided to participate in the presidential polls to vote against the Congress nominee.

Two MPs of the MDMK, an ally of the AIADMK, also cast their votes. However, the other UNPA constituents like the Samajwadi Party, TDP, AGP and the INLD did not vote.

However, the polling saw dissident BJP MLAs in Gujarat voting for Patil. Dissidents in the INLD in Rajasthan, Samajwadi Party in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh and TDP in Andhra Pradesh - all three members of the Third Front - also went against the grouping’s decision to abstain.

Most of the AIADMK’s 60 MLAs and all of its 12 MPs casting their vote. Five SP MLAs in MP and two in Bihar, three INLD legislators in Rajasthan and senior TDP MLA in Andhra voted.

Polling began at 10 am in Parliament House and 30 state capitals and union territories amidst tight security and strict vigil by the Election Commission, which issued a series of stringent instructions for voters.

In the election, both the contesting candidates could not cast their vote as Shekhawat is not an elected member of the Rajya Sabha and Patil is former Governor of Rajasthan so she had no voting rights.

As per rules, nominated members do not have the right to vote in presidential polls. However, the rule was forgotten by Rajya Sabha MP Kapila Vatsayan, who appeared in Parliament House to cast her vote, but was turned away.

During the month-long no-holds-barred campaign, the NDA camp sought to expose Patil for the lapses during her chairpersonship of a cooperative bank in Maharashtra and alleged diversion of MPLAD funds for a trust run by her husband.

The UPA attempted to embarrass Shekhawat by projecting the real face of the Independent candidate, especially his RSS link.

With ballot boxes being dispatched to Delhi from the capitals of states and union territories today, the counting of the votes will be done on July 21. The new president will succeed Abdul Kalam on July 25.

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