India votes for next president from lowest Dalit caste

Some 4,900 legislators nationwide voted in what prime minister Narendra Modi termed a "historic" election to choose the titular head of state

epa06092289 Prime Minister Narendra Modi  (C) greet Indian lawmakers as he leaves after casting his vote at Parliament House during the Indian presidential election in New Delhi, India, 17 July 2017. Lawmakers began voting to elect a new president with ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Ram Nath Kovind, who is widely seen as frontrunner for the largely ceremonial post.  EPA/HARISH TYAGI

Indian lawmakers voted on 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.

Some 4,900 legislators nationwide voted in what Mr 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.

Mr 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 result will be announced on Thursday.

"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," Mr Modi tweeted on the eve of the poll. "Every political party has kept in mind the dignity of this election."

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 Mr Kovind, 71, would help Mr 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.

On the day of the vote, media reported the case of a Dalit labourer allegedly beaten to death by upper-caste attackers, highlighting the plight of the "untouchable" caste.

Mr Modi's rivals have protested at Mr Kovind's nomination, citing his association with the radical right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological power behind the BJP.

The opposition nominee Ms Kumar, the daughter of freedom fighter Babu Jagjivan Ram, was a diplomat before entering politics in 1985 and became India's first woman speaker in 2009.

Her nomination, which followed Mr Kovind's, was seen by many as an opposition attempt to counter Mr Modi's move to woo Dalits.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi rallied opposition ranks before the vote, calling the contest a "clash of ideas and a conflict of disparate values".

"We cannot and must not let India be hostage to those who wish to impose upon it a narrow-minded, divisive and communal vision," Ms Gandhi said.

Votes from the BJP's traditional Hindu base propelled Mr Modi to his 2014 legislative victory, especially in the battleground states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Dalit support will be key for the BJP before the 2019 general election as the party has been largely shunned by Muslims, who make up about 14 per cent of the population.

"The Dalit community has bases across the country especially in all the big, electorally significant states," said Nistula Hebbar, political editor of The Hindu newspaper. "The community's vote is important for all, especially for the BJP. In a democracy, their numbers matter a lot."

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was meeting supporters in his campaign office in the southern Afghan province of Helmand when a bomb hidden under a sofa exploded on Wednesday.

The blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah killed the Afghan election candidate and at least another three people, Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak told reporters. Another three were wounded, while three suspects were detained, he said.

The Taliban – which controls much of Helmand and has vowed to disrupt the October 20 parliamentary elections – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Qahraman was at least the 10th candidate killed so far during the campaign season, and the second from Lashkar Gah this month. Another candidate, Saleh Mohammad Asikzai, was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week. Most of the slain candidates were murdered in targeted assassinations, including Avtar Singh Khalsa, the first Afghan Sikh to run for the lower house of the parliament.

The same week the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the elections. On Wednesday the group issued fresh warnings, calling on educational workers to stop schools from being used as polling centres.

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