Polling underway to choose new President; Ram Nath Kovind, Meira Kumar in fray

Ram Nath Kovind
Ram Nath Kovind
Polling began this morning in Delhi and in all the State capitals to elect the 14th President of India from two candidates -- former Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, nominated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, fielded by the Congress and 16 other Opposition parties.
The President is elected by the members of the Electoral College consisting of elected members of both Houses of Parliament, and elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of all States including the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
The nominated members of either Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha or Legislative Assemblies of the States are not eligible to be included in the Electoral College and therefore, they are not entitled to participate in the election. Similarly, members of the Legislative Councils are also not electors for the Presidential election.
Poll for the election will be taken in the Parliament House and in the premises of the State Legislative Assemblies. A total of 4,896 voters -- 776 elected MPs and 4,120 MLAs -- are eligible to cast their votes in the election. Voting is through a secret ballot and parties cannot issue a whip to their members to vote for a particular candidate.
As things stand, the numbers favour Mr. Kovind, a Dalit leader from Uttar Pradesh, who has the support of about 65 percent of the electoral college, including some regional parties which have decided to back the NDA candidate, and is expected to succeed President Pranab Mukherjee, whose five-year term will end on July 24.
On the eve of the poll, Congress President Sonia Gandhi sought a "vote of conscience", saying that the election "represented a clash of ideas, a conflict of disparate values".
She said that in both the Presidential and the Vice-Presidential election, which is slated for polling on August 5, the numbers might be against the Opposition. "But the battle must be fought and fought hard. We cannot and must not let India be a hostage those who wish to impose upon it a narrow-minded, divisive and communal vision," she said.
"We must stand more aware than ever of who we are, what we fought for in our Independence struggle and what future we want for outselves. We must have confidence in the values we believe in," she added.
Speaking at an all-party meeting convened by the Government yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it would have been better if the new President had been chosen by consensus.
"However, it is a matter of satisfaction and pride that the election campaign has been a dignified one. All the political parties need to be congratulated. All parties must train their MPs and MLAs to cast their votes so that not a single vote is wasted," he added.
In all, 95 persons had filed nominations for the President's post but 93 of them were rejected on a variety of grounds, leaving Mr. Kovind and Ms. Kumar in the fray.
The Opposition's campaign had suffered a serious setback when the Janata Dal (U), the leader of the ruling alliance in Bihar, in which the Congress is also a partner, decided to back Mr. Kovind in the election.
The JD (U) has, however, supported the Oppositon's candidate, former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, in the Vice-Presidential election. The party was not present at yesterday's meeting of the Opposition but did not attend the all-party meeting with Mr. Modi, too.
Both Mr. Kovind and Ms. Kumar had travelled across the country to seek support for their candidature.
Born on October, 1945 in Kanpur Dehat district of Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Kovind has degrees in Commerce an Law from the Kanpur University. He practised as an advocate in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India for about 16 years till 1993. He was a Central Government advocate in the Delhi High Court from 1977 to 1979 and Central Government Standing Counsel in Supreme Court from 1980 to 1993. He became Advocate-on-Record of the Supreme Court of India in 1978.
Mr. Kovind was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh in April, 1994 and served for two consecutive terms till March, 2006. 
He served as a Member of the Board of Governors of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Kolkata and of the Board of Management of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University, Lucknow.
He has been an advoate for the rights and causes of weaker sections, specially Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Minorities and women. He has also supported the development of basic infrastructure for education in rural areas through the MPLAD Scheme. As an advocate, he used to provide free legal aid for the weaker sections under the aegis of the Free Legal Aid Society in Delhi.
Mr. Kovind is married to Ms. Savita Kovind and they have a son, Prashant Kumar and a daughter, Swati.
Meira Kumar
Meira Kumar
Ms. Kumar, 72, the daughter of late prominent Dalit leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram, a five-time member of Parliament, became the first woman to be elected as Speaker of the Lok Sabha on June 3, 2009 after emerging as the consensus candidate of the then ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by her party Congress as well as the then opposition BJP.
She is a former officer of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) (1973 batch) who had resigned from the service in 1985 to join politics at the suggestion of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
She had served as the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment in the first term of the UPA Government from 2004-09. She was sworn in as a Cabinet Minister on May 22, 2009 in the UPA's second term and had taken over the portfolio of Water Resources on May 29 but on the following day, she became the Congress party's surprise choice for the Speaker's position. She resigned from the Union Council of Ministers on May 31, 2009.
She has a Master's degree in English and a degree in Law, as well as an advanced diploma in Spanish. She studied at Indraprastha College and Miranda House in the University of Delhi. She is also proficient in Hindi, Sanskrit and Bhojpuri languages.
She is married to Mr. Manjul Kumar, a lawyer, and the couple has three children---a son, Anshul, and two daughters, Swati and Devangna---who are all married.
Article 55 (3) of the Constitution provides that the election shall be held in accordance with the System of Proportional Representation by means of single transferable vote and the voting at such election shall be by secret ballot. In this system, the elector has to mark preferences against the names of the candidates.
Voters can mark their preference in the international form of Indian numerals, in Roman form, or in the form in any recognised Indian languages. Preference has to be marked in figures only. The elector can mark as many preference as the number of candidates. While the marking of the first preference is compulsory for the ballot paper to be valid, other preferences are optional.
For marking the vote, the Commission will supply particular pens. This pen will be given to the electors in the polling station by the designated official when the ballot paper is handed over. Electors have to mark the ballot only with this particular pen and not with any other pen. Voting by using any other pen may lead to invalidation of the vote at the time of counting, under Rule 31(1) (d) of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Rules, 1974.
The Secretary General of the Lok Sabha has been appointed as the Returning Officer for the election.
The Commission has also appointed Assistant Returning Officers in all State Capitals for making arrangements for conducting the poll and for transportation of the ballot boxes and other important documents to and from the Election Commission. For meeting any eventuality in case the Assistant Returning Officer is not available for any reason, a second Assistant Returning Officer has also been appointed. 
Counting of votes will be held in New Delhi on July 20 under the supervision of the Returning Officer after all the ballot boxes are brought in from the state capitals.
On completion of counting, Return of Election ( in Form 7 appended to the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Rules, 1974) will be signed and issued by the Returning Officer declaring the candidate who secures the quota elected. Formal announcement of election of the President will be made by the Election Commission.
The Commission has appointed senior Officers of the Government of India as its Observers at the places of polling to ensure proper conduct of poll.


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