India elects its first Dalit president

  • BJP-backed Ram Nath Kovind has chosen as the 14th president of Hindu-majority nation
  • The National Democratic Alliance candidate swept presidential polls with 65.65 percent votes
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NEW DELHI – Ram Nath Kovind has been elected as India’s 14th president, becoming the first head of the state of the Hindu-majority nation chosen from the marginalised Dalit community.

The 71-year-old former lawyer was nominated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party for the post.

The National Democratic Alliance candidate obtained 65.65 percent of votes from the electoral college, the Times of India reported on Thursday.

The opposition Congress Party also put forward a Dalit candidate, a former parliamentary speaker Meira Kumar, who lags far behind with a mere 34.35 percent.

“Kovind secured 2930 votes with a value of 7,02,044. Meira Kumar got 1,844 votes with the value of 3,67,314, and 77 votes were invalid,” said Anoop Mishra, the returning officer for the Presidential election 2017.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the new president on social media.

“Congratulations to Shri Ram Nath Kovind Ji on being elected the President of India! Best wishes for a fruitful and inspiring tenure,” Modi wrote on Twitter.

Analysts said the election of Kovind would help Modi tighten his grip on power and accrue political capital by sending an important message to the Dalits, a long-disdained electoral group once known as ‘untouchables’.

Dalits, who number around 200 million in the nation of 1.3 billion, are among India’s poorest communities and relegated to the margins of society.

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.