Pratibha becomes India's first woman president
UPA-Left nominee Pratibha Patil has created history by becoming the first woman to be elected to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. She defeated BJP-backed independent nominee, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat by over 3.06 lakh votes in an unusually bitter election that also witnessed some cross voting from the Opposition BJP-NDA.
Patil got 65.82 per cent of valid votes in comparison to 34.18 per cent polled by Shekhawat, who becomes the only sitting Vice President to have lost a presidential election. He also drew a blank in four states: Mizoram, and the Left bastions of Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal.
In her first interaction with the media, the new President saw her victory as the triumph of “just principles and values.’’ She said: “I am grateful to the people of the country for extending support to me.’’
After Achary handed to Patil the certificate declaring her elected as President, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi visited her at her make-shift 11 South Avenue residence and congratulated her. Singh saw her election as a “victory of the forces of unity and secularism against the divisive forces.’’
Sonia expressed gratitude to her UPA allies for helping elect the first woman president of independent India. Quipped External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee: “The BJP’s call for a conscience vote has gone against it.’’
Besides launching an all-out attack on Patil over nepotism and financial irregularities in her management of the cooperative bank, sugar mill and educational institutions she set up, the BJP conducted a high pitched campaign calling for a conscience vote and demanded that she, like Shekhawat, declare her assets and liabilities.
The campaign did not evidently pay off. Patil made a dent even in Opposition-ruled states like Nagaland, Bihar, MP and Mizoram. She also managed some cross-voting in Chhattisgarh and Gujarat and got extra votes in states like Delhi, Karnataka and Rajasthan. But in Punjab, there were three votes less than what that the Congress has in the assembly.
“We have made a substantial dent in Bihar and Gujarat. Even in MP, some BJP MLAs ignored Leader of Opposition LK Advani’s call for a conscience vote. The government, the BJP claims as its own in Nagaland, did not back Shekhawat and we got 45 votes,” said Parliamentary Affairs Minister PR Dasmunsi. Patil also scored impressively in her home state, Maharashtra where the Shiv Sena supported her by breaking ranks with the BJP. She got 223 of the 281 votes polled while Shekhawat got 58.
In his home state, Shekhawat appeared to have got the votes of four INLD MLAs who defied their party’s decision to abstain. The other state where he faired better than expectations was Tamil Nadu with 58 votes, including those of the AIADMK and MDMK and “probably” actor Vijaykant.
An air of excitement prevailed in the Congress camp whose main concern was not about her victory but her margin. There was no official announcement of the outcome after each state was taken up for counting in alphabetical order — with Parliament votes taken up right at the end.
The mood in the BJP camp was sombre. Former MP Satpal Jain came to brief once but did not show up thereafter. Shekhawat’s spokesperson, Sushma Swaraj and S.S. Ahluwalia spent time in Central Hall while his staff at his Maulana Azad Road residence calculated the value of votes he polled.
It took more than six hours to count a total of 4,472 votes. Of these 4,394 were valid and had a vote value of 9,69,422. The benchmark for winning the election was set at 4,84,4712 votes. Patil got 6,38,116 while Shekhawat could muster only 3,31,306. In the proportional representation system, while MPs have uniform value of 708 for each vote, the value of an MLA’s vote differs from state to state.
(Withinputs from Anil Anand)