NEW DELHI: Ram Nath Kovind was sworn in as India’s president Tuesday, becoming just the second leader from the oppressed Dalit community to be elected head of state.
A former lawyer and state governor, Kovind was elected to the largely ceremonial position last week with more than 65 percent of the vote by members of India’s parliament and state assemblies.
Kovind, accompanied by his wife, paid respects early Tuesday at a memorial dedicated to India’s independence hero Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi.
“I grew up in a mud house, in a small village. My journey has been a long one, and yet this journey is hardly mine alone. It is so telling of our nation and our society also,” Kovind said after taking the oath of office in parliament.
“For all its problems, it (nation) follows that basic mantra given to us in the preamble of the constitution — of ensuring justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, and I will always continue to follow this basic mantra.”
The 71-year-old was nominated by the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party in a move analysts say would help Prime Minister Narendra Modi tighten his grip on power and gain political capital ahead of his re-election bid in 2019.
Kovind has said he will use his position to improve the lot of Dalits, a marginalised 200-million strong community once known as “untouchables” and ranked among India’s poorest.
“Our diversity is the core that makes us so unique… We are so different yet so similar and united,” Kovind said.
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.
Kovind is the second Dalit president after K. R. Narayan, who held the post for five years from 1997.