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Friday, July 28, 2017, 

India votes for next president from lowest Dalit caste

India votes for next president from lowest Dalit caste

New Delhi, 17 July 2017 (MIA) - Indian lawmakers voted Monday for a new president certain to come from the bottom of the Hindu caste system, in an election seen as strengthening Prime Minister Narendra Modi's grip on power, AFP reports. 

Ninety-nine percent of the 4,896 legislators nationwide voted in the poll, according to officials, in what Modi termed a "historic" election to choose the titular head of state.

Ram Nath Kovind, the candidate of Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a former lawyer and state governor from the Dalit community, is certain to win.

His main rival is Meira Kumar, the nominee of the Congress-led opposition and also a Dalit.

But the BJP, which won a landslide in a general election in 2014, has for the first time assembled enough electoral college votes across the country to push through its presidential candidate. Congress has traditionally dominated the post.

"There is no rocket science, Ram Nath Kovind will win today," Praful Patel, a leader of the small opposition Nationalist Congress Party, conceded as he cast his vote.

Counting of votes and the result will be announced on Thursday.

Modi was among the first to vote, using a specially approved violet ink pen. The election commission barred the use of personal pens to ensure clean voting.

"The presidential poll this time is historic. Probably for the first time no party has made any undignified or unwarranted comment on the rival candidate," Modi tweeted on the eve of the poll.

The polling day ended with the right-wing party announcing its senior leader Venkaiah Naidu as its vice-presidential candidate, pitting him against Congress backed Gopal Krishna Gandhi -- grandson of India's iconic freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi.

Naidu is a cabinet member in the Modi government and is likely to triumph over Gandhi in the August 5 elections.

India's current two-time vice-president Mohammad Hamid Ansari retires in August and the next titular vice-president will be chosen by an election similar to the Monday's presidential polls.

India's prime minister wields executive power, but the president can send back some parliamentary bills for reconsideration and also plays a guiding role in the process of forming governments.

Analysts said the election of Kovind, 71, would help Modi tighten his grip on power and accrue political capital by sending an important message to the Dalits, a long-disdained electoral group once known as "untouchables".

Dalits, who number around 200 million in the nation of 1.3 billion, are among India's poorest communities and relegated to the margins of society.

Despite legal protection, discrimination is rife and Dalits are routinely denied access to education and other advancement opportunities. lk/21:07

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