The poll witnessed a voting of 98.21% as 771 of 785 eligible MPs cast their votes, of whom 90.83 per cent MPs voted within the first three hours.
New Delhi: Former Union minister and National Democratic Alliance candidate M. Venkaiah Naidu was today declared elected the 13th vice president of India as he defeated the opposition candidate and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson and former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi by 272 votes in the elections to the post held earlier in the day.
Announcing the result, returning officer and secretary-general of Rajya Sabha, S.K. Sheriff, declared that Naidu had polled 516 votes, while Gandhi – who had appealed to all the members of parliament to “consider his suitability for the high office” – polled a total of 244 votes. He said 11 of the 771 votes polled were found to be invalid. The term of Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who was re-elected in 2011, comes to an end on August 10.
Reacting to the outcome, leader of Congress in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said for the opposition the major gain is that its votes have gone up from 225 in the presidential polls to 244 in this election.
Polling for the election was heavy right from the word go as MPs had queued up well before voting began at 10 am. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to cast his vote at 10.05 am. From the Congress, the prominent leaders who voted were former prime minister Manmohan Singh, party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Though Gopalkrishna Gandhi, not being an MP could not vote, he was present in Parliament during the polling process.
Other notable figures who voted were cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and actress Rekha, who were recently criticised by some of the MPs for their low attendance and poor participation in house proceedings. With MPs all lined up, 90.83% voting was reported in the first three hours itself as 761 out of the 785 eligible voters had polled by 1 pm. The remaining 10 votes were cast subsequently.
Among the MPs who did not cast their votes were Vijay Goel and Sanwar Lal Jat of the BJP (who are both hospitalised); Mausam Noor and Ranee Narah of the Congress; Udyan Bhonsle of Nationalist Congress Party; Anbumani Ramadoss of PMK; Kunal Kumar Ghosh, Tapas Paul, Abhishek Banerjee and Pratima Mondal of Trinamool Congress; Anu Agha (nominated) and Naba Kumar Sarania (independent).
While the outcome of this election may have be a foregone conclusion for many since the BJP and its NDA allies enjoy a sizeable overall majority in the total strength of the parliament, the contest between the two stalwarts in their own rights had witnessed a fair share of drama as well.
The BJP had fielded one of its most prominent firefighters and senior leaders for the post. Naidu has also been the president of the party twice. On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi brought with him a lot of sobriety and composure to the polls. The career bureaucrat-diplomat had gone into the elections with an appeal to the MPs to “consider his suitability for the high office”.
The election had been necessitated as the term of Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who was re-elected in 2011, comes to an end on August 10.
Though the NDA had the numbers on its side, Gandhi’s coming onto the electoral scene had seen at least two parties – the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar and Biju Janata Dal, which had voted for the NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential poll – opting to go instead with Gandhi, whose name had been proposed by 18 political parties.
Voting continued till 5 pm, after which the counting was taken up. All the members of the parliament, barring a BJP MP in the Lok Sabha, Chhedi Paswan, who had been barred by the Supreme Court from voting, were entitled to vote in this election.
Paswan’s election as an MP from Sasaram in Bihar was earlier quashed by the Patna high court on July 26 for concealing information on criminal cases against him. Though the order was stayed by the apex court, the bar on his voting in presidential and vice-presidential polls remained.
Overall, while the strength of both the houses stands at 790, only 785 were could have possibly voted due on account of vacancies in the two houses and one MP being disqualified.
In the Lok Sabha, which has 545 members, the BJP and its allies have a full majority with 338 MPs with the saffron party itself having 281 of those. In the Upper House, which has a strength of 243, though the opposition still has a majority of the seats despite the BJP overtaking the Congress as the single largest party on August 3 when V.K. Samhita took the oath as its 58th MP in the House.
The election for the post of vice-president took place with special pens, which were also used in the presidential polls.
While Naidu’s emerging the winner due to sheer numbers which the NDA had was always certain, Gandhi managed to emerge as the rallying point for not only the opposition parties, but even other neutral parties like Aam Aadmi Party, BJP and even JD(U), which had recently parted ways with the “grand coalition” in Bihar to join hands with the BJP.
Gandhi also won the hearts of many through his simple style of campaigning and direct appeals to the MPs. Known for his adherence to Gandhian principles, he had used postcards bearing a stamp of Mahatma Gandhi to reach out to all the MPs to consider his “suitability” for the post. In his appeal, Gandhi had stated that his resolve would be to “serve the people of India without fear or favour”.
A known critic of the policies of the Narendra Modi government, Gandhi had further stated in the appeal that his “master and guide will be the constitution of India.”
He had later released a statement too in which he had posed several pointed questions to express his views on the present times. “In the larger arena of free choices, how free are we?,” he had asked, adding: “Are we free of fear? Are we free to choose our way of life, our forms of thought and expression? Are we free to tell off the bully and the bulldozer, in high office or the on the street corner? Are we free and able to tell giant industries to not pollute our rivers, our air, to not dump their toxic waste in our environment?”
Naidu, for his part, had issued an open letter to all the MPs stating that his endeavour would be to “defend and uphold the ideals that propelled the freedom struggle, the spirit and the principles of the constitution of India, including justice, liberty, equality and fraternity and the cherished values of national unity and integration.” Moreover, he had said that with his “long experience of legislative work” he was also “conscious of the rights, responsibilities and privileges of our MPs, the law makers.”
In the run up to the election to the post of vice-president, some acrimony and bitterness was also witnessed. Gandhi was accused by the Shiv Sena of seeking mercy for Mumbai blast case convict Yakub Memon. Responding to the charge, Gandhi had countered that the practice of capital punishment was “medieval and wrong” and that he had also spoken up for Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was facing death sentence in Pakistan.
Naidu had come under attack from the Congress which had posed four questions to him concerning charges of corruption and nepotism through its leader Jairam Ramesh. Responding to the charges, Naidu had stated that “some people went to court, and the court has also dismissed it. I feel really sorry that they could stoop down to this level in this election also.” Union Minister Ananth Kumar had also reacted to the charges, terming them “baseless and unsubstantiated.”
Note: Venkaiah Naidu was incorrectly described as the “15th vice president” in an earlier version of the story. He is the 13th, though the election he won today is the 15th vice presidential election since S. Radhakrishnan and Hamid Ansari were each elected twice.