A man of humble origin and a low-profile leader, Ram Nath Kovind was on Thursday elected the 14th President of India and will be the second Dalit to occupy the top constitutional post.
Born in Paraunkh village in Kanpur rural of Uttar Pradesh two years before Independence, Kovind, who turns 72 in October, hails from the Koli (weaver) community.
Always unassuming, Kovind worked through the ranks to become a national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and headed the party’s Scheduled Caste Morcha for three years from 1999. He was associated with the RSS before he joined the BJP.
A lawyer by profession, Kovind had practised at the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court for 16 years. He was also a central government counsel for some time.
Kovind served two terms as the Rajya Sabha member (1994-2006) and was member of a number of parliamentary committees, including on home, welfare of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and the Hindi Shiksha Samiti.
He also served as member on the Board of Governors of Indian Institute of Management – Kolkata and that of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar University, Lucknow.
He represented India at the United Nations and addressed the United Nations General Assembly in October 2002.
Kovind has worked for the rights of weaker sections, particularly the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and women. He joined the movement of SC/ST employees against the central government over 1997 orders, which adversely affected their interests. The orders were subsequently nullified by amendments adopted during the first National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
Kovind also worked for providing free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society as an advocate.
During his terms as a member of Parliament, Kovind helped in construction of school buildings in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS).
Kovind was General Secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Koli Samaj.
After his election on Thursday as the President, an emotional Kovind said he will work towards protecting the Constitution and upholding its values, and will serve the nation to ensure happiness for all.
“It is my duty to protect the Constitution and uphold its values as the President. I pay my respects to my countrymen and assure them that I’ll serve the nation in the spirit of ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah’ (May all be happy),” he said.
Recalling his childhood days, Kovind said: “We lived in a ‘kuchha’ house made of mud. The roof couldn’t stop the water trickles during the rainy season. I, along with my brothers and sisters, used to stand in a corner and wait for the rain to stop.”
“There could be many such Ram Nath Kovinds who are getting drenched in the rain. Many are working hard to earn their livelihood in this rain. I represent all those hardworking people. This is also a message to those who earn their livelihood with hard work and honesty,” he said.
Kovind said, “I neither thought I would be elected to this post, nor was this my aim. But my everlasting spirit to serve the society and my country has brought me here.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Kovind on his election.
“Gladdened by the extensive support for Kovindji among MPs and across various states. I thank members of the electoral college,” he added.
Modi also tweeted two pictures of himself with Kovind and his family, one of which was taken 20 years ago, and said: “20 years ago and the present… always been a privilege to know you, President Elect.”
BJP President Amit Shah, in a tweet, hoped Kovind will distinguish himself as an exceptional President.
“The election of Ram Nath Kovindji is a victory for the poor, downtrodden and the marginalised and their aspirations,” he said.
There were celebrations in Paraunkh, Kovind’s ancestral village, as the news of his election broke out.