The stage is all set for the election of the 14th President of India in a contest in which National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate Ram Nath Kovind has a clear edge in the electoral college over the opposition nominee Meira Kumar.
The total value of votes of the electoral college is 10,98,903, and the NDA candidate is slated to cross the halfway-mark and get about 63 per cent votes.
Kovind, who belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has the backing of all the party's allies besides several regional parties, while Kumar has been fielded by the Congress and some major opposition parties in what they call an "ideological battle" against the ruling party.
Both Kovind and Kumar are from the Dalit community and have canvassed hard by visiting states to seek support of legislators.
Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and BJP Senior leader LK Advani. PTI
All arrangements have been completed for the presidential election, and polling will take place in Parliament House and respective state assemblies between 10 am and 5 pm. Elected members of both houses of Parliament and assemblies in states, including the National Capital Region of Delhi and the Union Territory of Puducherry, are eligible to vote.
In a last-minute appeal ahead of Monday's election, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday urged members to "vote their conscience" while attacking the Narendra Modi government for trying to impose "narrow-minded, divisive and communal vision" on the country.
Addressing a meeting of several Opposition parties on the eve of the poll, she said the election represented "a clash of ideas" and "a conflict of disparate values".
Modi, on the other hand, said NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind had the support of 40 parties and expressed confidence about his victory. The prime minister urged the alliance lawmakers, including legislators in the states, to cast their ballots.
Parliamentary affairs minister HN Ananth Kumar later said that the meeting, held in the Parliament House Library building was also addressed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah and leaders of other alliance parties, including Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan and Shiromani Akali Dal's Harsimrat Kaur Badal.
Kumar said Modi noted that chief ministers of Odisha, Bihar, Telangana and Tamil Nadu had extended their support to Kovind.
Modi was quoted as saying that there was "clarity" about the presidential poll and the "road ahead is also clear". Before addressing NDA MPs, Modi also addressed a meeting of BJP parliamentary party executive committee.
Those present included party leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, M Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar and Thawar Chand Gehlot, besides Shah. Modi asked them to ensure the presence of MPs during the House proceedings.
Since the election is through a secret ballot, the parties cannot round up their members and make sure they vote for a particular candidate. Election for the next President of India begins today: NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind is pitted against Opposition nominee Meira Kumar.
The counting of votes will take place on 20 July in New Delhi where all the ballot boxes will be brought from various state capitals.
The electorate, comprising elected Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members and members of state Assemblies, is tilted in favour of the NDA, but the Opposition is still working to seek support of some regional parties in favour of their candidate.
The NDA, led by the BJP, has 5,37,683 votes, which includes the Shiv Sena. They're short by around 12,000 votes. But promised support from the BJD, the TRS and the YSR Congress and likely backing from the AIADMK factions could offset the shortfall of the presidential votes by a substantial margin.
Alluding to the NDA nominee having an edge in both elections, Sonia said: "...the numbers may be against us. But the battle must be fought and fought hard. We cannot and must not let India be hostage to those who wish to impose upon it a narrow-minded, divisive and communal vision."
"This election represents a clash of ideas, a conflict of disparate values. The election demands a vote of conscience to preserve the India that the Mahatma and that illustrious generation of freedom fighters, joined by thousands upon thousands of ordinary men and women, fought for," she added.
Noting that both the president and vice-president were entrusted to discharge the duties in a manner that preserves, protects and defends both the Constitution and the law, "both of these are, sadly, under siege today", she said: "We must ensure, therefore, that the best minds and the best servants of India stand at the helm."
Monsoon Session begins today
The day also marks the beginning of the Monsoon Session which is expected to be stormy with the Opposition parties all set to corner the government over a range of issues concerning national security, foreign policy and other domestic matters while the ruling alliance is gearing up to counter the onslaught on it.
Opposition parties are expected to raise the military stand-off with China, though in a restrained manner, the law and order situation in Kashmir in the wake of the recent terror attack on Amarnath pilgrims and incidents of lynching over beef controversy and suicide of farmers in some states.
The Opposition parties that include the Congress, CPM, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Nationalist Congress Party, BSP, Janata Dal-United, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and DMK among others, have already clarified that besides the elections of the president and vice-president, they will coordinate on the Parliament floor to corner the government.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 19:16 PM