Ram Nath Kovind's massive election victory over Meira Kumar to become the 14th president of India is another reminder of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's capabilities, not only as a charismatic grassroots leader but also of his skills at political maneuvering.
Given the composition of the Electoral College, where elected members of both houses of Parliament and MLAs from all states were voters, the result was always a foregone conclusion, but the final tally would make this victory particularly sweet for Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
For, this victory proves that tall claims of Opposition unity, as claimed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other leaders, lay shattered. The final vote count, in fact, shows that over a hundred parliamentarians and legislators from Congress and its allies defied party lines to vote for Kovind.
Consider this — In Gujarat, BJP has 121 MLAs but Kovind was endorsed by 132. And contrast this with Congress' 54 MLAs and NCP's two; clearly some of them chose not to vote for Meira Kumar, considering she got only 49 votes from the western state. It has been suggested that Leader of Opposition in Gujarat Assembly, Shankarsinh Vaghela, and his supporters defied the party by voting for Modi's choice.
Similarly, in Goa, Congress has 16 MLAs but only 11 voted for Meira Kumar. The BJP-led coalition there has 22 MLAs but Kovind got 25 votes from Goa. Leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Shivpal Yadav and their supporters publicly backed Kovind. The list would expand in other states.
As per the final count, Kovind got 7,02,644 votes and Meira Kumar got 3,67,314. This gives him 66 percent votes and only 34 for Meira Kumar.
This speaks volumes about Modi's reach across the length and breadth of the country, even among parties and MPs and MLAs who are otherwise not aligned with BJP. The BJP had slightly less than 50 percent of the total value of votes in the electoral college, but was able to swing an additional 17 votes in its favour, from parties which weren't otherwise part of the treasury benches at the Centre.
Furthermore a BJP leader will occupy Rashtrapati Bhawan and become Head of State for the first time since Independence, 67 years after India became a Republic. In 2002, Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA successfully got APJ Abdul Kalam elected to the highest constitutional office of the land. However, Kalam had no association with the BJP.
So 20 July 2017 has scripted a new chapter in BJP's history, just as 16 May 2014 did, when the party won full majority on its own in Lok Sabha.
Congress and its allies made three critical mistakes in the run-up to the presidential elections — firstly, they linked this election with Opposition unity and 2019 elections. The fact that Nitish Kumar, the most credible face in the Opposition, deserted their ranks to support Kovind punctured hype around the supposed Opposition unity. More so, linking the presidential election with 2019 Lok Sabha polls and making that a public discourse point was self-defeating. So now that they lost the presidential polls miserably, would they concede that 2019 is going to be a lost game as well?
Secondly, Sonia Gandhi and Meira Kumar's appeal to MPs and MLAs to vote as per their inner conscience proved to be counter-productive. A number of MPs and MLAs listened to their inner voice and voted for Kovind. Among the more notable Congress leaders to do so would have to be Shankarsinh Vaghela, a former Union minister and Congress leader from Gujarat.
And thirdly, every Congress leader, including Meira Kumar herself, talked extensively of this election being a clash of two contrasting ideologies and values. Now that Meira Kumar has lost and lost so badly, would she and Sonia Gandhi accept that their ideology and values have been squarely defeated?
Updated Date: Jul 21, 2017 09:15 AM