With President Ram Nath Kovind’s term set to end on July 24, the process to elect his successor has been kicked off with the Election Commission’s announcement of the schedule on Thursday. The electoral college for the presidential elections has 4,809 members, which includes 233 Rajya Sabha and 543 Lok Sabha members, and 4,033 MLAs of State Assemblies. Each member has a certain vote value based on the strength of the population they represent. The voting is on July 18. The total value of the votes that will be up for grabs is: 10,86,431. The BJP-led NDA’s tally is 5,25,706, around 20,000 votes short of the majority mark, but there is no doubt that its nominee will occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Biju Janata Dal with 31,686 votes and the YSR Congress with 43,450 votes have conveyed to the Government their wholehearted support. The Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik, on May 30, and YSR Congress chief and Andhra Pradesh CM Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, on June 2, met the PM, reportedly committing their votes to the BJP’s choice for the highest office.
Even though the outcome is foretold, the contest will have many layers of political meaning and symbolism, and therefore will be keenly watched by the country and the world. The new President will take over at a time when the country is faced with a crippling religious polarisation and other challenges. This is the second presidential election where J&K’s legislators will not participate, but the first after it became a UT in 2019. In the nomination of Mr. Kovind, a Dalit from the heartland, the BJP sent a political message five years ago. It will certainly have another one this year, that is being anticipated eagerly to read into what the BJP’s strategy will be, going into the 2024 general election. The presidential poll will also be a test for the Opposition in terms of its unity, leadership and talking points. The Congress has the highest number of votes among the non-BJP parties but its acceptance among other parties is at the lowest in a long time. The TRS chief and Telangana CM, K. Chandrashekar Rao, and the TMC leader and West Bengal CM, Mamata Banerjee, want to lead the Opposition coalition and hence appear unwilling to concede the leadership to the Congress, though they have not made any public statement on the question. AAP leader and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal who is relentless in his attacks on the BJP, is equally opposed to the Congress. Considering these divergent views and conflicting ambitions, it will be a tall order for the Opposition to devise a united front and coherent strategy. All told, the presidential election will be a demonstration of how political forces are aligned in the country.