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India’s 12th President is also the third Muslim President

APJ Abdul Kalam was declared elected as the next President of the Republic of India on Thursday, July 18, after he posted a resounding win against his only rival Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal.

Abdul Kalam recorded an impressive victory by a margin of over 800,000 votes. Counting of votes began in the morning for the election which was held on July 15. The counting process began at 1100 hours in Parliament House in New Delhi where ballot boxes had been kept after being brought from state capitals and Union Territories where legislators had exercised their franchise.

Winning the presidential elections for Abdul Kalam had remained a mere formality ever since the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and key Opposition parties like the Congress and others jointly fielded him as their candidate. Only Left parties and Janata Dal (Secular) had opposed Abdul Kalam and put up the legendary freedom-fighter Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal as their candidate.

Captain Sahgal had fought against the British colonial power under Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army. She is a physician based in Kanpur. She is also an active champion of women’s rights. Sahgal was the first woman candidate to stand for presidential election in India.

Abdul Kalam’s choice was briefly marred by a political acrimony. Another presidential probable PC Alexander, then governor of the western state of Maharashtra, who also belonged to a minority (Christian) community, was dumped in his favour. Unexpectedly, a person belonging to the minority Muslim community was chosen to replace a candidate from another minority community. Political observers aver that Kalam’s choice was to assuage the hurt feelings of Muslims in the wake of anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat and to whitewash India's sullied image.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi and Cabinet ministers were the first ones to cast their ballot on Monday, July 15, at Parliament House.

Janata Dal (Secular) MLA in Delhi Legislative Assembly, Shoaib Iqbal, chose to defy his party position and voted in favour of Dr Abdul Kalam who has been closely connected with India's rocket and nuclear programmes.

"I feel fantastic. I am facing an election, so I am naturally looking for victory," said an enthusiastic Abdul Kalam, when asked by reporters to express his feelings on the day of the election.

In India, ordinary citizens are not voters in the presidential elections. This election is as such not conducted on one-person-one-vote principle.

An electoral college made up of elected members of both houses of Parliament -- 776 MPs, besides the elected members of all legislative assemblies in the states -- 4120 MLAs, elects the President. Altogether 4896 voters, about 90 percent of the members of the electoral college, exercised their franchise in the election.A particular aspect in the presidential polls is that all the voters are not at par with each other. The vote of MLAs from less populated constituencies counts less than that of MLAs from larger constituencies. In Uttar Pradesh, the most densely populated Indian state, an MLA’s vote value was fixed at 208, whereas that of a Kerala MLA was 152, a Haryana MLA’s at 112, a Delhi MLA’s at 58 and the least value was that of a Sikkim MLA at 7, taking into account the inhabitants in the respective regions.

The value of an MP’s vote was fixed at 708. An MP’s vote is calculated by dividing the total value of all MLAs’ votes by the number of MPs.

Nicknamed "Father of Indian missile" APJ Abdul Kalam has been honoured with India’s top civilian award Bharat Ratna (Indian Jewel). He hails from a poor fishermen's family in the village of Rameshwaram in south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

In India, many see him as a misfit in the world of politics. However, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman Kasturi Rangan is not ready to buy this line. He said, "What one should know is that if you can master the technologies related to missiles or rocket operating satellites, which are some of the most complex systems that the mind has to grapple with, the Constitutional approach is well within your reach." 

Abdul Kalam claims that he is not averse to making a change as this has always happened with him. He said, "My mission is to teach 100,000 people. I am going to talk with them in two years. Change is my job. I change a number of times. Every time I change, I enrich myself and my colleagues."

The present president KR Narayanan is to demit office on July 24 and APJ Abdul Kalam would be sworn in as the Republic’s 12th President on July 25.

Meanwhile, the ruling NDA announced Wednesday, July 17, that senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Sekhawat would be their candidate for vice-president.

"Most of the political parties belonging to NDA and those having representatives in both Houses of Parliament, spoke to Prime Minister Vajpayee recently, and expressed their support to Shekhawat’s candidature," said NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes, addressing a press conference along with communications minister Pramod Mahajan.

"NDA allies such as the AIADMK, the DMK, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are supporting the PM’s decision," Fernandes said.

The Opposition parties are still to make their stand clear on the issue. But there are indications that a keen contest is on the cards during the vice-president’s election.

Sources said that names of eminent journalist Kuldip Nayyar and legal luminary Fali S Nariman were also doing rounds as the likely candidates from the opposition side.

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