Parliamentarians and legislators across the country voted on Monday to elect India's 15th president, choosing between opposition pick Yashwant Sinha and National Democratic Alliance nominee Droupadi Murmu who is favoured to win the battle to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
With the Bharatiya Janata Party's dominance and support from regional parties such as the Biju Janata Dal, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, the Shiv Sena and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Murmu's vote share is likely to reach nearly two-thirds and she is set to become the first tribal leader and second woman to occupy the top constitutional post.
While MPs filed into Parliament's Room No 63 that had been converted into a polling station to cast their vote, MLAs headed to state assemblies.
A total of 4,809 electors, including 776 MPs and 4033 elected MLAs are entitled to vote in the election, but nominated MPs and MLAs, and members of Legislative Council are not.
After the day's polling, the Election Commission said over 99 per cent of the total electors had cast their ballot.
In Delhi, voting ended with the 98.90 per cent of the electors permitted to vote in Parliament House exercising their franchise, said Returning Officer P C Mody.
Briefing reporters after the voting, he said 736 electors -- 727 MPs and nine MLAs -- had been permitted by the Election Commission to vote at Parliament House.
Eight MPs, including BJP's Sunny Deol, did not cast their vote.
Among those who voted in Parliament were Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
As polling gathered pace for a race in which the end result is seemingly clear, Sinha appealed to parliamentarians and legislators to listen to their 'inner voice' and support him.
"I have repeatedly said this election is very important as it will decide the direction as to whether democracy will remain in India or will slowly end.
"The indications that we are getting is that we are moving towards its end," the 84-year-old told reporters.
The votes will be counted on July 21 and the next President will take oath on July 25.
Though the result appeared to be a foregone conclusion, there was an element of political excitement with speculation about cross-voting in favour of Murmu in several states, including Assam, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The details of exactly how many MPs and MLAs cross-voted will be known when the votes are counted.
In Assam, All India United Democratic Front MLA Karimuddin Barbhuiyan claimed that around 20 Congress MLAs from the state cross-voted.
In Uttar Pradesh, Shivpal Singh Yadav of the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party Lohia claimed he would never support Sinha as he had once accused his brother, SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, of being an 'ISI agent'.
Haryana Congress MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi, who had cross-voted in last month's Rajya Sabha polls, also indicated that he had supported the ruling National Democratic Alliance candidate.
"Like Rajya Sabha, I have cast my vote in this election too as per my conscience," he told reporters.
Congress MLA in Odisha Mohammed Moquim created a flutter by announcing that he had voted in favour of Murmu as she was a 'daughter of Odisha'.
In Jharkhand, Nationalist Congress Party MLA Kamlesh Singh announced his backing for Murmu and said he went by his 'conscience call'.
His party colleague Kandhal Jadeja echoed him in Gujarat.
"I cast my vote for the BJP candidate," he said.
Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil was confident some Congress legislators, who were absent during the Eknath Shinde government's trust vote, voted for Murmu.
"I am sure some Congress MLAs who remained absent during the vote of confidence will apply their conscience this time as well," Patil said in Mumbai.
The Congress, he said, can't guard its own MLAs.
Shiromani Akali Dal MLA Manpreet Singh Ayali chose to boycott the poll and blamed the BJP-led Centre, previous Congress-led governments for not settling various issues related to Punjab and also his own party.
As the process of voting continued in fits and starts through the country, some scenes stood out.
A visibly frail former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, 89, came to vote in a wheelchair.
As did 82-year-old Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav who faltered while casting his vote and was given another chance.
Dr Singh was also assisted by polling officers in exercising his franchise.
Odisha leader of opposition, BJP leader Pradipta Kumar Naik, came in a wheelchair straight from hospital where he was admitted with post-Covid complications.
An oxygen cylinder accompanied him.
In Patna, BJP MLA Mithilesh Kumar, who was in a road accident about a month ago, arrived on a stretcher to cast his vote.
And in Chennai, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin, the first to vote in the secretariat complex, reached the polling booth straight from a hospital after being discharged following his recovery from Covid.
Other early voters in various cities included Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Maharashtra's Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis as well as Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
As Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla put it, elections in India are celebrated as a festival.
Members should participate in the festival, the speaker said while adjourning the House till 2 pm in the morning so MPs could go and vote.
The Rajya Sabha was also adjourned to enable members to participate in the presidential poll.
The system of secret ballot is followed in the presidential election, and parties cannot issue whips to their MPs and MLAs with regard to voting.
The value of the vote of an MP has gone down to 700 from 708 in this presidential poll due to the absence of a legislative assembly in Jammu and Kashmir.
The value of vote of an MLA varies in different states.
In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, the value is 208, followed by 176 in Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu.
In Sikkim, the value of vote per MLA is seven, while it is nine in Nagaland and eight in Mizoram.
According to the Election Commission's directions, while MPs get a green ballot paper, MLAs get a pink ballot paper.
The separate colours help the returning officer ascertain the value of vote of each MLA and MP.
Seeking to maintain secrecy of voting, the EC issued a specially designed pen with violet ink to enable voters to mark their ballot papers.
Murmu, who at 64 could be among the youngest presidents of India, did not speak today but said on Sunday that tribals and women are delighted over her nomination.
"There are around 10 crore tribals with more than 700 communities, and all are delighted with my nomination," she was quoted as saying at a gathering of NDA MPs.