Meira Kumar May Have Lost to Kovind, but She Had the Highest Vote Share for a Runner-Up Since 1969

Meira Kumar polled 34.35% of valid votes, making her’s the best performance by a losing candidate in the presidential poll in nearly 50 years.

Meira Kumar. Credit: PTI

Meira Kumar. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Opposition candidate Meira Kumar may have lost the presidential poll to Ram Nath Kovind, who was fielded by the BJP and its NDA allies, but in securing nearly 34.35% of the valid votes, she has put up a great fight. In fact, her performance was the best by a losing candidate since the 1969 elections when even though V.V. Giri defeated Neelam Sanjiva Reddy in a multi-cornered fight, the latter polled nearly 37.5% votes.

With the support of the Janata Dal (United) – which drifted away as the Congress-led opposition dilly-dallied in announcing its candidate, and the BJP chose a Dalit leader who as Bihar governor enjoyed a good rapport with chief minister Nitish Kumar – the former Lok Sabha speaker could have done much better in the polls. In fact, had the JD(U) voted for her, she would have surpassed Reddy’s poll percentage by a fair margin as Nitish’s support and that of his partymen would have bolstered her numbers.

Perhaps the Congress is not too far out of place to suggest that opposition unity is still intact to a great extent. But while Meira’s performance may be a great consolation, it should definitely not be music to the ears of the opposition parties since the comparison is based on diverse data and the norms for presidential polls have changed over the years.

It is being said that Kovind’s margin of victory is the lowest since the 1974 presidential poll. But what has been conveniently overlooked has been that India has thrown up decisive mandates since 1969, which has a bearing on the presidential polls, in which both the MPs and MLAs vote. Moreover, the results in these polls are dependent more on the unity among parties than the candidate’s campaign, as was seen in 1997 when K.R. Narayanan won by polling 94.97% of the valid votes and again in 2002 when A.P.J. Abdul Kalam won by polling 89.58 % votes. But in both these instances, the Congress and the BJP had voted together for the winning candidates.

The other such decisive results came soon after independence when Rajendra Prasad of the Congress swept the first two elections in 1952 and in 1957 and S. Radhakrishnan secured over 98% votes in the 1962 polls. By then the Congress was ahead of the other political groups by a long shot. However, the party’s tally declined significantly in 1967 when Zakir Hussain faced tough contest from Koka Subbarao of the opposition.

Thereafter, the fifth presidential election was necessitated in 1969 by Hussain’s sudden demise. This time again there was a close fight between Giri of the Congress and Reddy with C.D. Deshmukh eating into the opposition votes and polling as much as Giri’s margin of victory. Reddy had polled 37.49% of the valid votes in that election, making it the best performance by a runner-up ever in presidential elections in India.

It is now said that Giri’s margin of victory was the lowest for any presidential poll as he had secured just 48% of the total votes. But there were 15 candidates competing then, unlike now when the contest is primarily a direct one as rules were amended to provide that every nomination be supported by a certain number of proposers and seconders.

Before the sixth election, the law was changed as, according to the Election Commission, “The experience of the past five elections to the office of the president held in 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967 and 1969 had revealed that persons often offered themselves as candidates for the highest office of president without even a remote chance of getting elected.”

Thus through an amendment to the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Act, 1952, it was made mandatory that every nomination paper of a presidential candidate be subscribed by at least ten electors as proposers and ten electors as seconders.

As such, in the 1974 polls, there were just two candidates and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed defeated Tridib Chaudhuri polling 80.18% of the valid votes.

In the seventh presidential election held in 1977 following the demise of Ahmed in office, Reddy was declared elected unopposed after the nomination forms of 36 canididates were rejected.

The eighth presidential election was held in 1982 when Giani Zail Singh polled 72.73% of the valid votes and defeated H.R. Khanna.

The ninth presidential election took place in 1987 when R. Venkataram polled 72.29% of the valid votes to defeat V. Krishna Iyer and Mithilesh Kumar, who was the third candidate in that election.

In the tenth presidential election, Shanker Dayal Sharma had polled 65.85% of the valid votes while the runner up G.G. Swell had polled 33.76% in the four-cornered contest which also featured senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani and Kaka Joginder Singh alias Dharti Pakad.

Following Narayan and Kalam’s decisive victories in 1997 and 2002 respectively, the 13th presidential election had again witnessed a serious contest between Pratibha Devisingh Patil who was fielded by the Congress and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of BJP. Patil had polled 65.82% of the valid votes.

Pranab Mukherjee had performed better than Patil in the 14th presidential election as he had polled 69.31% of the valid votes while defeating P.A. Sangma in the 2012 election. Meira’s vote share in that sense is closer to that of Shekhawat whose election was also fought with great zeal by both the camps.