A day before the presidential elections 2017 which will decide the 14th president of the country and which NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind looks set to sweep, Congress president Sonia Gandhi sought "a vote of conscience", calling the contest "a clash of ideas and a conflict of disparate values".
On the other hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was addressing an all-party meeting ahead of the Parliament session, said it would have been better if the President had been chosen by consensus.
"However, it is a matter of satisfaction and pride that the election campaign has been a dignified one. All the political parties need to be congratulated. All parties must train their MPs and MLAs to cast their votes so that not a single vote is wasted," he added.
A total of 95 candidates filed nominations for the top Constitutional post, of which 93 were rejected on various grounds, leaving only Kovind and Opposition candidate Meira Kumar in the fray. While Kumar has support of 17 opposition parties, Kovind is set to get nearly 70 per cent of the electoral college votes.
Acknowledging this, Sonia Gandhi said the numbers may be against the Opposition but "the battle must be fought and fought hard". "We cannot and must not let India be hostage to those who wish to impose upon it a narrow-minded, divisive and communal vision," she said.
The Opposition's campaign suffered a big setback because of JD(U), a Congress ally in Bihar, which decided to back Kovind after being the first to moot the idea of putting up a joint candidate against the NDA's. Taking the JD(U)'s cue, other parties had later lined up behind Kovind.
The votes are set to be cast to choose the president of India today and counting of votes will take place on July 20 in New Delhi after all the ballot boxes have been brought from various state capitals. Incumbent Pranab Mukherjee's term comes to an end on July 24.
A total of 4,896 voters ? 4,120 MLAs and 776 elected MPs ? are eligible to cast their ballot. Since the election is through a secret ballot, the parties cannot issue a whip to their members to vote for a particular candidate. A total of 32 polling stations ? one in Parliament House and one each in the state legislative Assemblies ? have been set up.
Thirty-three observers have been appointed by the EC to oversee the election. While two observers will be present in Parliament House, one each will be deployed at the Assemblies.