As the opposition slammed the government for mishandling the 2012 presidential poll, Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani on Friday drew a parallel with what happened in 1969 when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's call for a conscience vote led to the defeat of the official Congress candidate.
This was the first time this had happened in an Indian presidential election and Advani termed it an “extraordinary event”.
“In all the president elections, the most unforgettable was the one in 1969. This is at number two,” Advani told reporters in New Delhi.
The 1969 election was caused by the sudden death of president Zakir Hussain. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, who was then the Lok Sabha speaker, was named Congress candidate by party veterans like K Kamraj, Morarji Desai, and S Nijalingappa at a meeting Gandhi stayed away from.
Gandhi then made VV Giri resign as vice president and contest as an independent, asking Congress MPs and legislators to vote according to their conscience.
Giri won the election by a small margin, largely due to the support of opposition parties like the Left, the Akali Dal and the DMK.
During the last presidential poll in 2007, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who was then the vice president, had also called for a conscience vote. He, however, lost to Congress candidate Pratibha Patil and immediately quit office. Patil's term ends July 24 and her successor will be elected July 19.
Will the issue of a conscience vote arise again this year? For the record, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has called for one after she and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav named former president APJ Abdul Kalam as one of their three choices for president.