| Pratibha Patil
July 19: This was one election that was less about the winner and more about who voted and which way they swung.
The biggest surprise of the presidential contest came from the ADMK, whose MLAs and MPs grinned on their way to vote in Chennai, after Jayalalithaa had announced they would abstain.
Another upset, not entirely unexpected, unfolded in Gujarat, where 15 rebel BJP MLAs voted for UPA candidate Pratibha Patil amid speculation that they had done so to spite chief minister Narendra Modi.
But it was the events in Chennai that almost lent a comic tinge to the muck-stained election, where charges and counter-charges often descended to the level of slander.
The first batch of 15 ADMK legislators walked into the Assembly. Later, others, including the party’s deputy leader, . Pannerselvam, and the Vaiko-led MDMK trooped in. By evening, 59 of the 60 ADMK MLAs had voted. The 11 ADMK and two MDMK MPs voted in Delhi.
They wouldn’t say who they voted for, but sources said they had rooted for BJP-backed Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. The decision to abstain was meant to keep equal distance from the BJP and the Congress.
Jayalalithaa claimed she had left Chennai early this morning and came to know about the somersault only after she returned to the city. “Since I had decided I was going to abstain from voting, I went out in the early hours. I returned home in the afternoon and learnt what had transpired in my absence,” the ADMK chief said.
Jayalalithaa even laid the blame on the door of the Election Commission, saying the panel’s order against issuing a whip to legislators had created “a lot of confusion”.
The order, she suggested, had stopped her from calling a meeting of the legislators last evening where “instructions” on the presidential poll could have been given. The ADMK leader claimed that her lawyers had advised her not to convene such a meeting since the poll panel might construe any instruction as a whip.
Her party MPs and MLAs were accustomed to receiving detailed instructions from her on all important occasions, Jayalalithaa said, adding that they ended up confused because she did not issue a directive on the presidential poll.
In Ahmedabad, the election was less about Pratibha or Shekhawat, but more about opposing chief minister Modi. “As a woman I had decided to vote for a woman candidate,” said Ramila Desai, a suspended BJP MLA and one of the 15 MLAs who threw their lot with Pratibha.
Dhiru Gajera, a rebel MLA from Surat, almost dared the BJP to take disciplinary action against him. “I had already made it clear that I was going to vote for the UPA-Left candidate. I had no reason to reconsider my decision.”
In Maharashtra, Pratibha had it going all her way. But she did remember to call Bal Thackeray to thank him for Shiv Sena’s support despite ally BJP’s objections.
Overall, the turnout in the presidential election was a high 88.5 per cent for MPs and 91 per cent for MLAs. Polling was 100 per cent in seven states and Union territories.
In absolute numbers, 682 of the 770 MPs cast their ballots. Of the 4,120 MLAs in the country, 3,755 voted.
Bengal in line
The 260 MLAs of the Left and the Congress voted en bloc for Pratibha. The 29 Trinamul Congress members stuck to their leader Mamata Banerjee’s decision to abstain because the NDA did not agree to a second term for President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. That meant Shekhawat did not get a single vote from the state. Suspended Trinamul MLA Sadhan Pande voted for Pratibha.