New Delhi: Brisk polling is reported from across the country in one of the most bitterly contested presidential elections, with the AIADMK and MDMK breaking ranks with their partners in the Third Front to participate in the polls.
Climaxing a month-long bitter campaign which saw the worst mud-slinging in the run up to choose the successor to A P J Abdul Kalam, polling started sharp at 1000 hours IST in Parliament House amidst tight security and strict vigil by the Election Commission, which gave a series of stringent instructions for voters to follow.
Polling also began in 30 state capitals and union territories to enable MLAs to cast their ballots.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were among the first to cast their votes in the election, in which UPA-Left nominee Pratibha Patil has a clear edge over NDA-backed independent Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
The newly formed United National Progressive Alliance or Third Front said it would abstain from voting, a decision announced by AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa last week, but her party, a key member of the grouping, decided to participate in the election.
All 12 MPs of the AIADMK would vote, said one MP who did not want to be named. "We have taken a decision to vote against the Congress and our party is participating in the election," he told PTI.
However, Amar Singh told CNN-IBN that Jayalalithaa and AIADMK MP's and MLA's are not voting for Shekhawat. The Jayalalithaa-led party has 60 members in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.
Two MPs of the MDMK, an ally of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, also cast their votes. However, the other UNPA constituents like the Samajwadi Party, TDP, AGP and INLD did not vote.
Meanwhile, the election has brought to fore the dissidence in the BJP unit in Gujarat, which spells trouble for Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is facing Assembly elections in the state by the end of this year.
Some of the dissident BJP MLAs have disobeyed party instructions and voted for UPA nominee Pratibha Patil. The exact number of MLAs who have gone against the party nominee is still not known.
BJP MLA Ramila Ben Desai said, "I have listened to my conscience while voting. Women have always supported me throughout my career so it is obvious that I'll vote for a woman."
While another BJP rebel Dhiru Bhai Gajera said, “I had asked people to vote according to their conscience and I have voted for Pratibha Patil. Wait for a day and you'll get your answers."
For the first time, the Election Commission has issued orders to ensure proper identification of voters "with due care and diligence and not mechanically".
As part of other special measures to ensure a smooth polling, the Commission ordered videography of critical events including poll proceedings and barred voters and polling officials from carrying mobile phones inside the polling stations.
Interestingly, voters have been asked not to use any pen other than the one officially supplied to mark the ballot paper. They have been asked not to write their name or signature or any words on the ballot paper.
Out of the 4,896-strong electoral college, 776 are MPs and 4,120 are MLAs.
The total vote value is over 10.98 lakh and the UPA, riding on the crest of a confidence wave, claims it will romp home with nearly six lakh votes to send its nominee Pratibha Patil to the Raisina Hill, pipping NDA-backed independent Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to the post.
Results of the polls will be declared on July 21 and the new President will walk into Rashtrapati Bhavan on July 25.
JD(S) abstains from voting in Karnataka
In Karnataka JD(S) is abstaining from voting despite being a ruling coalition partner of BJP.
Just a day before the poll, ignoring state BJP's appeal for support, JD(S) announced its decision saying it was in line with its stand at the national level to maintain "equi-distance" from both the Congress and BJP.
JD(S) supremo H D Deve Gowda described his party's alliance with BJP as "purely a local arrangement" to avoid frequent elections.
Polling began at Vidhan Soudha, the state secretariat, amidst tight security. Congress is expected to get more than its share of votes with eight JD(S) rebels declaring their support to UPA candidate Pratibha Patil.
The value of MLA's vote is 131 in Karnataka which has a 224-member Assembly and that of an MP is 708. The state has 28 Lok Sabha members and 12 Rajya Sabha members.
Kerala all for Patil
Voting for presidential elections got under way in Kerala, where both the ruling LDF and opposition Congress-led UDF are supporting the UPA-Left combine's candidate Pratibha Patil.
The coalition-wise split-up in the house is LDF 98, UDF 40 and NCP 2.
(With agency inputs)<table width="248" border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="2"> <tr> <td height="20" valign="middle" bgcolor="#DB1524"><div align="center"><strong class="Wtext11">NUMBER GAME</strong></div></td> </tr> <tr> <td width="248" height="20" valign="middle" class="Btext11 pLeft10"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" />The UPA, Left and BSP combined have 5.7 lakh votes out of the 10.98 lakh total votes of the electoral college. If Shiv Sena's 28,000 votes are added to this tally, the figure goes up to 5.98 lakh votes.</td> </tr> <tr> <td width="248" height="20" valign="middle" class="Btext11 pLeft10"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" />The National Conference with 4,000 votes has also pledged its support to Pratibha Patil. So that takes her numbers to 6.02 lakh votes, way above the halfway mark of 5.49 lakh votes.</td> </tr><tr> <td width="248" height="20" valign="middle" class="Btext11 pLeft10"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" />The NDA on the other hand is left with just 3.07 lakh votes.</td> </tr><tr> <td width="248" height="20" valign="middle" class="Btext11 pLeft10"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /> The remaining parties have around 1.89 lakh votes, these include some NDA parties like the Trinamool Congress and UNPA parties like the TDP and the Samajwadi Party, which have decided to abstain.</td> </tr></table>