Ram Nath Kovind, who was sworn-in as India's 14th President on Tuesday, 25 July, said in his maiden speech that the country's diversity was key to its success.
"We are so different and yet so similar and united," he said during the ceremony in the central hall of the Parliament. "The key to India's success is its diversity."
Kovind was referring to the mix of different religions, languages, cultures and lifestyle in India. His remarks come at a time when clashes in the country over religion, food habits, and other differences have raised alarm. Attacks on minorities like Muslims and Dalits, and a rising clamour of Hindu right-wing voices demanding a Hindu nation have further fuelled fears. Kovind is the second Dalit to be elected President of India. He was formerly Governor of Bihar.
Kovind's words echo his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee's farewell speech, made a day earlier in the same hall. Mukherjee stressed on "pluralism and tolerance" as the foundation of India.
"But every day, we see increased violence around us," he had said. "At the heart of this violence is darkness, fear and mistrust. We must free our public discourse from all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal."
Kovind, a former Supreme Court lawyer, Rajya Sabha MP, and political veteran, said that India's moral integrity was as important as its economic development.
"We need to build an India that is an economic leader as well as a moral exemplar," said the 71-year-old. "For us, those two touchstones can never be separate. They are and must forever be linked."
Kovind also described his humble beginnings, recalling how he grew up in a mud house in a small village. "My journey has been a long one, and yet this journey is hardly mine alone," he said. "It is so telling of our nation and our society also.
You can read his full speech here.
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