It was the sudden death of the sitting President in 1977 that necessitated the election for India’s head of state. That was the only instance when India’s President was elected without a contest, a record that continues till today. A total of 37 candidates had filed nominations, but it was Neelam Sanjiva Reddy who assumed India’s highest constitutional office.
The presidential election was necessitated by the sudden death of President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed on February 11, 1977. Vice-President BD Jatti assumed the charge as Acting President, under Article 65(1) of the Constitution. As per the rules, an election to fill the vacancy in the office of the President was required to be held within six months from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy.
However, necessary steps to fill the vacancy could not be taken immediately as India headed into General Elections on February 10, 1977, which stretched on till May 13, 1977. After that, 11 states headed to Assembly elections in June-July.
Finally, on July 4, 1977, presidential elections were notified and polling was set for August 6. As per documents from the Election Commission of India seen by News18, a total of 37 candidates filed their nominations.
On scrutiny, the Returning Officer – then Secretary, Lok Sabha, Avtar Singh Rikhy, rejected the nominations filed by 36 candidates and Reddy was the only valid candidate. Neither the preparation nor publication of the list of contesting candidates, therefore, became necessary.
“After 3.00 p.m. on the last date fixed for withdrawal of candidatures, July 21, the Returning Officer declared the result of election under section 8(1) of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952 and Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy was declared elected unopposed. This was the first time when a candidate was declared elected to the highest office of the President of India without a contest (sic),” the ECI document reads.
Section 8 of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952 states the procedure in contested and uncontested elections. It says that if there is only one candidate who has been validly nominated after the expiry of the period within which candidatures may be withdrawn and the sole candidate has not withdrawn his candidature, the Returning Officer may declare that candidate to be duly elected to the office of President (or Vice-President, as the case may be).
The announcement of Reddy’s election as the President of India was signed by the Chief Election Commissioner on July 21 and sent to the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary read the announcement at the time of assumption of office by the President on July 25, 1977.
During the 1977 presidential election, the total electors were 4,532, including the elected members of Lok Sabha (524), Rajya Sabha (232) and 22 State Legislative Assemblies (3,776). Each Member of Parliament had 702 votes and the number of votes for each Member of the State Legislative Assemblies differed from state to state on the basis of the population.
The lowest value of votes was for the MLAs from Sikkim (seven) and the highest value of votes was for the MLAs from Uttar Pradesh (208). The value of votes was calculated on the basis of the 1971 Census.
In the 1969 presidential elections, Reddy was the runner-up with 3.13 lakh votes and VV Giri was elected as the President with 4.01 lakh votes.