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Some interesting facts about Presidential Elections of India you may not be knowing

The battle for the election of a new President of India is all set with the opposition announcing former Lok Sabha speaker Ms. Meira Kumar as its candidate. Earlier this week on Monday, ruling BJP had announced former Bihar governor Mr. Ram Nath Kovind as its candidate. The voting will take place on 17th July and the counting of votes will be take place on 20th July.

This election, which will be the 15th Presidential election of India, is going to be one of the most keenly and closely contested elections in the recent past, although Mr. Kovind appears to have an upper hand right now. However, as we will see, this might not be as close as once witnessed in the history of presidential elections.

So here are some bits of information about the Presidential elections and earlier incidents that we think you will find interesting:

MLAs of different states have different values of their votes

This is something you must already be knowing. When we common citizens vote in any general or assembly elections, our individual votes have the value of one vote each, but it is not the same when MPs and MLAs vote in the Presidential elections.

The President is elected through the votes of all MPs (of both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha) and MLAs (of all States and UTs of India), who are jointly known as the “Electoral College” and individually referred to as “Electors”. While every MP has the same value of his or her vote (regardless of size of his parliamentary constituency) the value of the vote of an MLA depends upon the relative population strength and total number of assembly constituencies in that state. The following formula is used to calculate the value of vote of an MLA:

To give an idea, value of a single vote of an MLA from Uttar Pradesh is 208, which is the highest, while the value of a single vote of an MLA from Sikkim is 7, which is the lowest among all India. The total value of votes of all MLAs from all the States and UTs combined (4120 MLAs) comes out to be 549495.

The value of a single vote of every MP (543 Lok Sabha MPs and 233 Rajya Sabha MPs) comes out to be 708, based on the following formula:

Thus the maximum value of total votes polled in a presidential election is [549495 + 708x(543+233)] = 1098903.

The population strength of different states has been fixed as per 1971 census

To ensure that states performing better at population control are not ‘punished’, it was decided to fix the 1971 census data in the aforementioned formula to calculate the value of vote of an MLA till 2026, even though population figures have changed considerably over time.

For example, if we take the 2011 census data, the value of vote of an Uttar Pradesh MLA will become 259 (currently 208) while that of a Sikkim MLA will become 19 (currently 7).

Here is a table of 10 states, which indicates how strengths of different states could change if 2011 census data is used instead of the population recorded in the 1971 census.

Presidential election involves preferential voting system

This is another crucial difference between the way we common citizens vote in regular elections and how our elected representatives vote in the presidential elections. While we are supposed to vote for only one candidate, electors in a presidential election are supposed to indicate ‘preferences’ against one or more candidates. Yes, our presidential election follows a “preferential voting system”.

Ever since the Presidential election of 1997, we have seen only 2 candidates fighting it out for the apex post, hence the preferential voting has not been in effect or action, but the electors are supposed to mark their preference – in digits only – against the names of the candidates. Any other form of voting, say a tick mark or writing “one” in any language will lead to an invalid vote.

In the upcoming elections too, an elector will be supposed to write “1” against the name of Ram Nath Kovind or Meira Kumar to register his or her vote. Writing “2” against the remaining candidate is not compulsory (and in the current case, where just two candidates are expected, it is not even needed). According to the rules, marking only “1” is compulsory even if there are more than two candidates in the fray.

Theoretically, if no one gets more than half of the total value of valid votes with all the “1” preferences counted against their names, the candidate who got the least value of “1” preference is eliminated and it is seen as to which candidates were marked “2” in those ballot papers (if marked so); these values are then added to the rest of the candidates, and the sequence is repeated till we have a winner.

In one presidential election, there were 17 candidates in the final fray!

Although most of us would remember only 2 candidates (as has been happening in the last 20 years), there have been elections with over a dozen candidates too. Yes, we are talking about final list of candidates who were listed to be voted for, not nominations/applications that usually run into scores (and most of them are rejected after evaluation of papers).

The record of maximum number of candidates was made in the fourth presidential election of 1967, when there were a total of 17 candidates in the fray. Out of these, 9 candidates failed to get even a single vote. Another 4 of them received votes whose value was less than 250 each, which means that no MP voted for them and there could have been a handful of MLAs voting them.

In the presidential election of 1969, which had to be held in just 2 years after the previous one as President Zakir Husain passed away while in office, there were 15 candidates again in the final fray, out of which 5 failed to poll even a single vote. Rules were made tougher after this election to stop non-serious candidates from qualifying for the actual voting stage.

In 1974, it was mandated that a candidate will qualify for voting stage only if he or she is backed by 10 electors as proposers and another 10 as backers. One elector was supposed to propose or back only one candidate. As a result, there were only 2 candidates in the 1974 presidential elections. Currently, this number is set to 50 electors each, and we will see when it was increased.

In 1977 election, there was just one candidate, and thus he won unopposed

The only President of India who was elected without voting was Mr. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, who won in 1977 when the Janata Party was in power and Congress in opposition for the first time thanks to Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi earlier.

The Presidential election took place only 3 years after the previous one as the then President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed had passed away while in office.

Congress decided not to give any fight in the Presidential election, possibly because of being low on confidence after losing power for the first time, and declared support for the Janata Party candidate. As a result, Reddy was elected unopposed. This was second time he had run for the office, earlier in 1969.

1969 Presidential elections were the most closely fought ever

The 1969 presidential election is the only election of India in which we witnessed the preferential voting system in action.

Ruling Congress was unable to decide its candidate on time and it resulted in two Congress leaders declaring their candidatures of their own – the then acting President of India V V Giri (who was made acting president due to death of Zakir Hussain) and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. V V Giri had to resign from his post of acting President of India and thus the then Chief Justice of India became the acting President for a little over a month till the presidential elections were over.

There was a third candidate too – Mr. C D Deshmukh, backed by some opposition parties like Swatantra Party and Jan Sangh. A faction of Congress appealed to Swatantra Party and Jan Sangha electors to cast their 2nd preference votes in favour of Mr. Reddy – a step that was denounced by Indira Gandhi thus giving an indirect support to Mr. Giri.

It is speculated that many Congress members voted for Mr. Reddy, despite Indira’s reservations, but Mr. Giri ended up winning the elections. The results were decided after counting 2nd preference votes – the only time it has happened in the history of Indian presidential elections. Reddy had received almost 5 times more value of 2nd preference votes than Giri, but he still lost by a narrow margin.

There is no option of NOTA in the elections

Apart from aforementioned major differences, a minor difference in the way we vote and our elected representatives vote in the elections is the option of choosing NOTA. While we get the option of NOTA (None Of The Above), no such option is available for the electors in a presidential poll.

Nominated members of the house are not eligible to vote in Presidential elections

Yes, Sachin Tendulkar will not be voting in the Presidential Elections 2017.

Noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani also has been a candidate in one election

As we had seen earlier, to keep out non-serious candidates, it was mandated that a candidate must have the support of at least 20 electors (10 as proposers and 10 as backers). But this proved to be less in the 1992 Presidential elections, when noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani could qualify. Not that Jethmalani was exactly a ‘non-serious’ candidate, but it demonstrated that a well-connected and well-known person could get support of 20 electors.

Not just Ram Jethmalani, a person named Kaka Joginder Singh alias “Dharti-Pakad” could also qualify for the final round in the 1992 elections. Dharti Pakad, who is now no more, was famous for contesting hundreds of elections and losing them. It can be argued that he fitted in the category of ‘non-serious’ candidate.

Ram Jethmalani got votes worth total value of 2704, and even Dharti Pakad got 1135 in a four cornered fight. Both lost their deposits in an election that was won by Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma by defeating Mr. G G Swell.

Earlier in 1987 presidential election, another person named Mitihilesh Kumar had qualified for the voting stage. He even demanded to make a pitch for his candidacy on Doordarshan and All India Radio, which was denied. He had received 2223 votes in the election.

Mithilesh Kumar tried to contest 1992 presidential election too, but his nomination papers were rejected. As a result, he went to Supreme Court and somehow argued that everyone’s nomination papers, except that of Dharti Pakad, should have been rejected. He demanded Dharti Pakad to be declared winner and the new President of India. Supreme Court found his petition frivolous and dismissed it.

Taking lessons from these developments, it was decided to increase the number of electors from 20 to 100 (50 as proposers and 50 as backers) from 1997 onward, and ever since then, we have not seen a third candidate in the voting stage.

Secret ballot system is used for Presidential elections

Till now we have seen how presidential elections voting system is different from ours, but this is a similarity. Just like our vote is secret, the vote of an MLA or MP in Presidential elections is also secret. This is unlike other voting – such as during law making – that happens in legislative houses, where the MLAs or MPs are supposed to follow the party whip and vote accordingly.

Anti-defection law doesn’t apply during the Presidential elections

If an MLA or MP votes against the party whip, he loses his membership of the house, but since the presidential elections happen through secret ballot, anti-defection law is not applicable here. This often results in cross voting, and thus a party’s support can not be taken for granted in a presidential election, for the party members can always vote according to their individual wishes without having to face any consequences.

All MLAs or MPs have to use the same pen during the voting

Even though anti-defection law doesn’t apply, what if a political party gives a special colour pen to its members during the voting, so that they know how many did not vote according to party line? They could guess the number of defectors or ‘traitors’ and accordingly try to zero on the ‘culprits’. This possibility has the risk of a secret ballot no longer remaining secret.

As it happens during the counting of votes in assembly or general elections, the candidates and their representatives are allowed while counting of Presidential election votes is on. The candidate and representative may make a note of this special colour and count the number of votes as per party lines, and conclude how many voted against the party line, right?

Although this sounds too Sherlock Holmes level, the Election Commission of India has factored in such possibilities and decided that everyone will use the same pen with common ink colour at every polling station (at Parliament or State assemblies). A violet ink will be used in the upcoming elections, and votes registered by using any other pen will be declared invalid.

(sources: Election Commission of India handbook [pdf], FAQs by ECI [pdf], and a letter by ECI [pdf])

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