Indian lawmakers Thursday voted to elect a new president in what is a direct contest between ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate Pranab Mukherjee, holding a clear winning edge, and opposition-backed P.A. Sangma.
Polling to choose the 13th president started simultaneously at the national and state capitals.
More than 650 votes had been cast till 1 p.m., Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Harish Rawat said.
MPs were seen queuing up in Parliament House outside the polling booth in Room No 63 even before the voting began at 10 a.m.
Nearly 700 MPs and eight state legislators were expected to participate in the exercise in Parliament House.
Polling began on a brisk note with Bapi Raju Kanumuri, the Congress MP from Narsapuram in Andhra Pradesh, being the first MP to vote.
“My blessings are with Pranabda. I was the first to vote,” Kanumuri told IANS as he came out of the polling station.
DMK’s M.K. Alagiri, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) member Bhartruhari Mahtab and Congress’ Pratap Singh Bajwa were among the early voters. L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley and Murli Manohar Joshi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also voted.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Mayawati and Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachhan were among the early women voters.
As voting picked up, many MPs, including women, were seen standing in the queue to vote.
Mukherjee, who has a clear edge over opposition-favoured Sangma, came to vote shortly after 11 a.m. Congress MPs were seen greeting him.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi accompanied Mukherjee as the leaders cast their ballot one after the other amid camera flashlights.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi also voted shortly after.
The leaders didn’t speak to the media but waved towards a battery of reporters covering the event.
Mukherjee also enjoys enjoys the support of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
BJP-led NDA members Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and Shiv Sena have also extended their support to the former finance minister besides the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Forward Bloc.
The Communist Party of India, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) have said their MPs and legislators will abstain from voting.
Sangma, a member of the Meghalaya assembly, said he was still “hopeful” despite the numbers being stacked against him.
“Look at my face, I am hopeful,” Sangma told reporters.
Voting was also under way in all states for assembly members who along with Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha MPs together make up India’s electoral college.
The college has 4,120 assembly members and 776 members of parliament.
Polling will continue till 5 p.m. The votes will be counted Sunday, three days before President Pratibha Patil’s five-year tenure ends.