Ram Nath Kovind was on Thursday elected the 14th President of India and will take oath on July 25. Kovind will be the second Dalit President after KR Narayanan who served from 1997 to 2002. The former Bihar Governor was fielded by the ruling NDA and he secured the votes of 65.65 per cent of the electoral college while the remaining 34.35 per cent went to Opposition candidate Meira Kumar. After being elected as President of India, Kovind said, “I never aspired to be the President. My win is a message to those discharging their duties with integrity. My election as the President is an evidence of the greatness of Indian democracy.”
Here are the names and short profiles of earlier Presidents of India:
Rajendra PRASAD, 1950-62
A mind of his own
His relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru was testy — he held views that were completely contrary to the Prime Minister’s, especially on issues that were dear to Nehru’s heart. Prasad was opposed to the Hindu Code Bill, and in going for the inauguration of the rebuilt Somnath temple, disregarded Nehru’s advice to not grace a religious event as Head of State.
Sarvepalli RADHAKRISHNAN, 1962-67
The philosopher, former teacher and diplomat lent a professorial touch to Rashtrapati Bhawan during his tenure. He left a lasting imprint on the national calendar — his birthday, September 5, is celebrated as Teachers’ Day.
Zakir HUSAIN, 1967-69
First Muslim President
India’s first Muslim President was the first Head of State who died in office. Hyderabad-born Husain was a prolific writer, a Rajya Sabha MP, and Governor of Bihar. He was India’s second Vice-President, and a Bharat Ratna.
V V GIRI, 1969-74
Beneficiary of ‘conscience vote’
He is best remembered for his role in the dramatic split in the Congress and the assertion of Indira Gandhi. In violation of the party’s official decision to back Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, she called for a “conscience vote”, and Congresspersons rallied behind the independent candidate, Giri.
Fakhruddin Ali AHMED, 1974-77
Ahmed did not serve his full term, and is remembered most for being the President under whose signature the Emergency was declared. After the Emergency was lifted and Indira lost the elections, a debate began on the role of the President in the Indian system.
Neelam Sanjiva REDDY, 1977-82
The poet and administrator from Andhra Pradesh who had lost as the official Congress candidate in 1969, entered Rashtrapati Bhawan without a contest in 1977. He was in Indira’s first ministry, but won in 1975 on a Janta Party ticket.
Giani Zail SINGH, 1982-87
Pushed the envelope the most
The President’s relationship with Rajiv Gandhi was fraught — he went from being the man who had made up his mind to swear in Rajiv at a difficult time, to being the President who questioned virtually all the PM’s decisions. His refusal, in 1986, to sign the Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill — which he felt would amount to censoring personal mail — precipitated a crisis, and the Bill was subsequently shelved. Zail Singh pushed the powers of the Rashtrapati to the very extreme.
R VENKATARAMAN, 1987-92
President to four PMs
Venkataraman saw four PMs, three of whom he swore in. The lawyer, freedom fighter and member of the first Lok Sabha served as Minister for Finance and Defence in his career.
Shankar Dayal SHARMA, 1992-97
Votary of ‘largest party’
He took the call to invite the single largest party to form the government in 1996, giving the BJP, under A B Vajpayee, its first taste of power at the Centre.
K R NARAYANAN, 1997-2002
Backer of ‘letter of support’
The first Dalit President ended up dissolving Lok Sabha twice. If his predecessor concluded that “single largest party” was the key to an invitation to form the government, he devised a criterion of “letters of support” from allies in case of a hung House. In the aftermath of the riots in Gujarat in 2002, Narayanan wrote letters to Prime Minister Vajpayee, the contents of which remain secret.
A P J Abdul KALAM, 2002-07
Most loved Missile Man
India’s Missile Man was a candidate on whom the Congress and BJP agreed. During his visit to Gujarat, the veena-playing and Gita-quoting Kalam was keen to be seen as his own man. He famously returned the UPA’s Office of Profit Bill, prompting Sonia Gandhi’s resignation as MP. He remains one of India’s most loved Presidents.
Pratibha PATIL, 2007-12
She wouldn’t let hang
The only woman President flew in a Sukhoi fighter in a sari. Although she never voiced her views on the death penalty, she never signed off on the hanging of any convict on her watch.
Pranab Mukherjee, 2012-17
Liked across party lines
Mukherjee’s vast administrative experience and encyclopaedic knowledge of India, procedure, convention and the Constitution, led to his being the copybook President. There were times he spoke his mind, like on intolerance, at a time when the country was roiled by incidents such as the Akhlaq lynching.