New Delhi: Ram Nath Kovind took over as India's 14th president on Tuesday, on a day of ceremony and regalia during which he underscored that the key to India's success was its diversity.
"In this land we find a mix of states and regions, religions, languages, cultures, lifestyles and much more. We are so different and yet so similar and united," he said in his acceptance speech after taking oath of office in the historical Central Hall of Parliament.
The 71-year-old, who took over the highest Constitutional post in the country from Pranab Mukherjee, is the first BJP leader and the second Dalit in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Stressing on access and opportunities for the "last person and the last girl-child from an under-privileged family", he said, "We have achieved a lot as a nation, but the effort to do more, to do better and to do faster should be relentless. This is especially so as we approach the 75th Year of our independence in 2022."
The former Bihar governor, described variously as low profile and unassuming, said the country needs to sculpt a robust, high growth economy, an educated, ethical and shared community, and an egalitarian society, as envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi and BJP ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyay.
The change of guard had begun early in the morning with a gentle knock on the door of Kovind's Akbar Road residence.
It was Military Secretary to the President, Major General Anil Khosla. Khosla, who had come with a motorcade, invited Kovind and his wife Savita to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, where Mukherjee received them in the study.
A few hours later, the roles had reversed and President Kovind escorted Mukherjee out of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Earlier, the then president-elect and the outgoing president had gone to the grand Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt where they were escorted to the saluting dais.
Mukherjee took the last salute of the President's Bodyguard (PBG) with Kovind standing to his left.
The two leaders drove down Raisina Hill to the Central Hall of Parliament in the black presidential limousine with Mukherjee in the right and Kovind on the left.
Escorting them was a grand equestrian procession by the PBG, dressed in white ceremonial uniforms and blue turbans with gold ornamental work.
The road from Rashtrapati Bhavan to Parliament was lined with 1,000 jawans from all three services of the armed forces offering the traditional 'hazaar salaam' to the president -- the supreme commander of the defence forces.
The procession reached gate number five of Parliament where Vice President Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Chief Justice of India J S Khehar received President Mukherjee and President-elect Kovind who were then taken to the Central Hall.
The oath ceremony started with Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi reading out the Election Commission notification on the presidential polls declaring Kovind winner.
After Justice Khehar administered the oath of office to "preserve, protect and defend the constitution and law", Kovind exchanged seats with Mukherjee.
Addressing the gathering, Kovind referred to his humble background and said he grew up in a mud house in a small village.
His journey to the presidency had been a long one.
"It is so telling of our nation and our society also. For all its problems, it follows that basic mantra given to us in the Preamble to the Constitution - of ensuring Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity - and I will always continue to follow this basic mantra," he said.
Remembering his predecessors, including Rajendra Prasad, S. Radhakrishnan, A P J Abdul Kalam and Pranab Mukherjee, Kovind said the country's Independence was the result of efforts by thousands of patriotic freedom fighters led by Mahatma Gandhi.
"These leaders did not believe that simply political freedom was enough. For them, it was crucial to also achieve economic and social freedom for millions of our people," he said.
After the ceremony, Kovind met leaders across the political spectrum who had gathered in Central Hall. He then left for the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the presidential limousine -- this time with Mukherjee in the left and India's new president on the right.
The skies opened up as the procession made its way from Parliament to the presidential palace.
The black tarmac of Rajpath seemed washed clean as the PBG marched with military precision in the pouring rain. Kovind and Mukherjee reached the Rashtrapati Bhavan where the new president formally took charge.
Kovind then came out into the forecourt in the presidential buggy, a black carriage with national emblem--the Ashoka insignia--embossed in gold and drawn by six horses.
It was Mukherjee who had revived the tradition of the buggy ride.
Kovind inspected the Guard of Honour and returned back inside. He came back outside to the forecourt, escorting Mukherjee who was given a last Guard of Honour.
Kovind then accompanied Mukherjee in the presidential limousine to see him off to his new residence at 10, Rajaji Marg, once occupied by the late Kalam.