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President Ram Nath Kovind: Gentleman politician, lawyer, Dalit rights champion, dog lover

Ram Nath Kovind was sworn in as India’s 14th president on Tuesday. Kovind, a low-profile politician, will have the task of establishing himself as the first citizen, and not the government’s rubber stamp. Here are key points to know about him.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2017 13:26 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Ram Nath Kovind,Ram Nath Kovind profile,Indian President
Artist Sudarshan Pattnaik commemorates Ram Nath Kovind’s election as India’s 14th president at Puri beach in Odisha. (PTI)

Ram Nath Kovind was sworn in as India’s 14th president on Tuesday. Kovind, a low-profile politician, will have the task of establishing himself as the first citizen, and not the government’s rubber stamp. Here are key points to know about him.

Kovind, 71, was born in a poor family in Paraunkh village in rural Kanpur. The Hindu reports Kovind and his siblings would stick to the corners of their mud hut, as the thatched roof could not stop the rain from pouring into their home. “My election as President of India is to represent all such Kovinds toiling away to make a living,” he recalled the day he was elected.

Kovind’s father was a farmer who had to sell off a piece of land to fund his son’s education in Kanpur. Kovind is a lawyer, who has practised at the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court. Kovind, as a lawyer, worked to provide free legal aid to the poor and Dalits.

Kovind’s Dalit identity is a “matter of fact” but that’s just one part, says the BJP. “If at all Kovind represents any section, it is that of the majority of India--rural, agrarian, economically and socially underprivileged. It is the same section that Prime Minister Narendra Modi represents. He too was sneered at by some Lutyens’ intellectuals as “chaiwala”. But both Kovind and Modi represent the true India - Marx’s proletariat and Socrates’ philosopher rolled into one,” BJP leader Ram Madhav wrote in an article in The Indian Express.

Kovind will be the country’s first president born and brought up in Uttar Pradesh. Zakir Hussain, the third president, was from Uttar Pradesh but he wasn’t born there. Kovind’s election as president is expected to ’repair and consolidate’ the BJP’s social base in the state after Yogi Adityanath, a Rajput, was made the chief minister. Prime Minister Narendra Modi represents Varanasi, the UP temple town, in Parliament.

President elect Ram Nath Kovind greets people during a ceremony after his election, in Delhi on July 20. (AFP)

Kovind unsuccessfully contested assembly elections twice and Lok Sabha polls once. He was elected to Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh in 1994 and served two consecutive terms. He spoke on a variety of subjects in Rajya Sabha: from adult movies on TV to a sensitive report on the 1962 war. Kovind posed 283 questions during the two terms in Rajya Sabha.

Media profiles written after the National Democratic Alliance selected Kovind as its presidential nominee described him as “soft-spoken, low profile, unassuming and affable”. It is perhaps Kovind’s style of politics that led Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to back him for the president’s office though the JD(U) leader had criticised his appointment as the state’s governor in 2015. When Kovind visited his village in Uttar Pradesh in 2001, people presented him 11 silver crowns and tried to weigh him in coins. He politely refused both, asking if their love was limited to mere symbolism. He got the silver crowns sold and used the money to marry off 20 women in the village.

Kovind, as BJP’s national spokesperson between 2010 and 2012, addressed just three press conferences. “Heavyweight spokesmen overshadowed him,” a BJP leader who worked with Kovind in the media department told Hindustan Times. Kovind held a press conference in March 2010 which created controversy when he was named for the presidential race. Kovind reportedly rejected a commission’s report recommending reservation for religious minorities. “Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation,” he reportedly said at the press conference. But his supporters say he was misquoted and he actually said “notion”.

Kovind could be a gentleman politician but as president he doesn’t have to a rubber stamp of the government. There is no constitutional provision that obliges the president to act on the ‘aid and advice’ of the Cabinet. As this opinion article notes: “Through the intelligent use of power of reconsideration of the Cabinet’s advice (like KR Narayanan did) and the use of pocket veto and right to be informed like Zail Singh, Kovind can fulfill his oath and enhance the stature his office.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah selected Kovind for the job around the first week of June, but Kovind himself was unaware of his candidature till June 17, reports India Today. When a source close to Shah asked him on May 30 whether Union minister Thawar Chand Gehlot was to be the NDA candidate, he was told: “Someone like him.”

Kovind’s family stays away from the limelight. His wife, Savita, called him for hours before she could speak to him after he was declared the NDA’s presidential candidate on June 19. Kovind’s daughter, Swati, is an air hostess with Air India and his son, Prashant, owns a petrol pump.

Dog lovers will take pride in President Kovind. An India Today report notes that when Kovind and his family lived at 144 North Avenue, New Delhi, they adopted six stray dogs. Will these dogs move to Rashtrapati Bhavan now?

First Published: Jul 25, 2017 07:42 IST