While the Opposition put up a brave face arguing that its joint candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi got more votes of MPs than its presidential nominee Meira Kumar, a close look at his count of 244 shows he got less votes than expected, suggesting cross-voting. That is not counting the nine opposition MPs, two from the Congress, four from the Trinamool Congress, two from the Indian Union Muslim League and one from the NCP, who did not vote.
The 18 opposition parties which had together fielded Gandhi have 245 MPs in the two Houses of Parliament, and he had also been promised support by the Aam Aadmi Party, which has four Lok Sabha MPs. Besides them, Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM, some Independents and some nominated members were also expected to support the Opposition candidate.
The 18 parties backing Gandhi included the JD(U) (18 MPs), which is now with the BJP. The BJD, with its 28 MPs, had also backed Gandhi. Both the JD(U) and BJD had voted for NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential elections. Meira Kumar got 225 votes from among MPs, and if Gandhi got her votes, plus the JD(U) and BJD’s, he should have touched at least 265.
Besides members of parties in the NDA and fence-sitters like the YSRCP, TRS and AIADMK, there are 278 MPs. Gandhi’s loss appears to have been NDA candidate and Vice-President elect M Venkaiah Naidu’s gain. Kovind had got 522 MP votes, including of the BJD and JD(U). Discounting the 40 votes of the two parties, Naidu should have got 482. Even if the 10 nominated members, who are not allowed to vote in the presidential elections, voted for Naidu, he should have gone up to only 492. He got 516 votes instead.
Of the total 785 MPs allowed to vote on Saturday, 771 turned up. Of the 14 MPs who didn’t vote, only three belonged to the NDA camp. Of the remaining 11, nine were opposition MPs and two Independents. Among the Independents missing was Anu Agha, a former member of the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council who was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the UPA, and Kokrajhar MP Naba Kumar Sarania. Eleven of the votes cast were found to be invalid. Polling agents said seven belonged to the Opposition, while four were of the NDA.
The two Muslim League MPs who couldn’t vote, P K Kunhalikutty and Abdul Wahab, blamed national carrier Air India. They could not reach Delhi in time for voting as their flight from Kozhikode was stranded at the Mumbai airport for over three hours due to a technical snag. The flight which was to leave Mumbai around 11.15 am left at 2.34 pm. The MPs reached Parliament 10 minutes after voting closed.
The Congress MPs who did not turn up included Rajya Sabha MP Ranee Narah and Lok Sabha MP from Maldaha Uttar Mausam Noor. Noor told The Sunday Express she had viral fever, while Narah could not be contacted. The four Trinamool Congress MPs who did not vote were Tapas Pal, Pratima Mondal, Abhishek Banerjee and Kunal Kumar Ghosh. Trinamool Congress sources said Mondal, Banerjee (Mamata Banerjee’s nephew) and Pal could not make it on medical grounds.
NCP MP Udayanraje Bhonsale too did not turn up. The BJP members who were absent were Union Sports Minister Vijay Goel and Rajasthan MP Sanwarlal Jat. Both of them are hospitalised. Former Union minister and PMK leader Anbumani Ramdoss was also absent. Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said respective parties will probe why some MPs were absent, while stressing that Gandhi had got more votes than Kumar did during the presidential poll. “It is a matter of happiness that our votes did not come down despite all the efforts by the government.” CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said “if some votes were invalid and if there was any cross-voting… respective parties will look into it”.
Gandhi thanked the MPs who voted for him. “They represent different political persuasions, they come from different parts of India and they had all come together to vote for what they thought was the national good, which is the affirmation of the right to free thought and free speech, the right to hold a different opinion and the duty to serve the cause of pluralism and secularism in India.”
He said he wants to tell all the MPs across the political divide that “you carry a great responsibility and a great weight on your shoulders and may you discharge your responsibilities in the tradition of the great parliamentarians of our country, with diligence and courage”.
“There were two big victories today… First is that of Venkaiah garu… the second victory is of free speech. This is the victory of the ballot. It is also the victory of free speech and the second victory belongs to all the people of India,” he said. He said he was expecting a “handsome performance” by the united vote of the opposition parties and was “more than satisfied with what I have got”.