President Kovind. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 25: Ram Nath Kovind today assumed office as the 14th President of India in a ritualistic change of guard that was anything but routine and was aptly described as a "significant milestone" by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Never before has the topmost pedestals of the republic been occupied by those brought up on the ideology of the Sangh parivar. The change made its presence felt in the very first speech delivered by the new President.
Kovind acknowledged that "the key to India's success is its diversity" and "our diversity is the core that makes us so unique" and ended his speech with a call to build an egalitarian society as "envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi and Deendayal Upadhyayaji".
If the exhortation echoed his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee's repeated toasts to India's diversity, Kovind's choice of icons included a nod to the preferences of both the BJP and the Modi government.
Kovind's mention of Upadhyaya, the late Jana Sangh leader, was complemented by a reference to another Jana Sangh icon by Modi in a separate speech to BJP parliamentarians.
"The journey started by (Jana Sangh founder) Syama Prasad Mookerjee, during which many people sacrificed everything, has reached a significant milestone today as the new President takes oath," Modi said.
In his address in Central Hall of Parliament, Kovind mostly dwelt on nation-building, stressing that every citizen was a nation builder, whether he or she was a soldier, law-keeper, farmer, scientist, nurse, doctor, start-up owner, teacher or homemaker.
Many welcomed this part of the speech, which comes at a time the government's support base has been seeking to project certain sections of society as the sole stakeholders in India's well-being.
Kovind referred to Vallabhbhai Patel and B.R. Ambedkar but did not mention Jawaharlal Nehru, an omission the Congress was quick to pick on.
Kovind remembered his predecessors Rajendra Prasad, S. Radhakrishnan, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Pranab Mukherjee but made no mention of K.R. Narayanan. Perhaps, Kovind did not want to overemphasise the caste factor - he is the second President from the Dalit community while Narayanan was the first.
But Mayawati issued a statement underlining that the new President should have offered tributes to Ambedkar, either at his statue in the Parliament complex or before his photograph inside Central Hall.
Another reminder of the change rang out loud: Central Hall reverberated with cries of " Jai Shri Ram".
The Congress took umbrage at the way Kovind mentioned Upadhyaya in the same breath as the Mahatma. "The President should remember that he is not a BJP candidate any more. He is the President of India. He has to... rise above and think beyond party politics," Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
Unwittingly or otherwise, NDA vice-presidential candidate Venkaih Naidu tweeted later: "Fondly reminisce days I spent with @BJP4India. My advice to party workers is - The party is like mother & we should never forget our mother."