Ram Nath Kovind gestures after being sworn in at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on July 25. Photograph: (Reuters)
Ram Nath Kovind is just the second Dalit leader to be elected head of state after KR Narayanan
BJP's Dalit leader Ram Nath Kovind was sworn in as India's 14th president on Tuesday, just the second Dalit leader to be elected head of state after KR Narayanan.
In his address to Parliament after his swearing-in, the new president said he felt privileged to walk on the same path as Dr Radhakrishnan, Dr Abdul Kalam and Pranab Mukherjee.
"I will stand by and represent all 125 crore fellow Indians. I understand the massive responsibility that this is. I feel privileged to walk on the same path as Dr.Radhakrishnan, Dr. Abdul Kalam and Pranab da. I hope to live up to that greatness," he said.
In his speech, President Kovind emphasised the importance of upholding India's diversity.
"Coming here to central hall has brought back so many memories. I have been to this central hall and have often had discussions with many of you. We often agreed and disagreed. But we learnt to respect each other and that is the beauty of democracy."
We are different but we are one and united. These are the traditional values and there is no contradiction or alternative opinion about it."
The 71-year-old president, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, said he had been brought up in a mud-built house in a small village in the state.
"I am thankful to you all for giving me the responsibility to be the President of India... I come from a humble background. The journey has been long.
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. For all its problems, it follows that basic mantra given to us in the Preamble to the Constitution – of ensuring Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and I will always continue to follow this basic mantra," Mr Kovind said in his address.
He said that while the 21st century would be an Indian century, there was a need to build India as a "moral exemplar" and of combining tradition and technology.
"We would be completing 70 years of our Independence soon. We are also well into the second decade of the 21st century, a century that so many of us intuitively believe will be an Indian century, guided and shaped by India and its accomplishments. We need to build an India that is an economic leader as well as a moral exemplar. For us, those two touchstones can never be separate. They are and must forever be linked," Ram Nath Kovind said.
"The India of the 21st century will be one that is in conformity with our ancient values as well as compliant with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. There is no dichotomy there, no question of choice. We must combine tradition and technology, the wisdom of an age-old Bharat and the science of a contemporary India," President Kovind said.
Citing the examples of Mahatma Gandhi and Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader Deen Dayal Upadhyay, President Kovind stressed on the need for building an egalitarian society.
"We need to sculpt a robust, high growth economy, an educated, ethical and shared community, and an egalitarian society, as envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi and Deen Dayal Upadhyay ji. These are integral to our sense of humanism. This is the India of our dreams, an India that will provide equality of opportunities. This will be the India of the 21st century," he said.
After his address in Parliament, President Kovind was given a guard of honour at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He was then given a tour of the Raisina Hill residence by outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee.
The new President subsequently left for 10, Rajaji Marg, the new residence of Pranab Mukherjee and the received former President there.
Accompanied by his wife, President Kovind paid his respects at Mahatma Gandhi's memorial Rajghat in the Indian capital before proceeding to Parliament's Central Hall for his swearing-in ceremony.
He was driven to Parliament in a ceremonial horse-drawn chariot.
A former lawyer and governor of Bihar, Kovind won the presidency after defeating Opposition's Meira Kumar, garnering more than 65 per cent of the vote of lawmakers of Parliament and state assemblies.
A politician with a previously low profile, he is also a member of the Hindu nationalist organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
His appointment is being viewed as a move to consolidate the Dalit vote for the BJP ahead of the 2019 general elections.