A P J Abdul Kalam took over as India's eleventh President on Thursday with several firsts to his credit.
Kalam is the first President of India to have been honoured with a Bharat Ratna before being elected to the highest office. He is also the first scientist and first bachelor to occupy Rashtrapati Bhawan. And for good measure, he is the third apolitical figure to become President of India.
The morning ceremony to swear in the new President was conducted with traditional splendour and in keeping with parliamentary traditions.
The presidential entourage, a black limousine accompanied by the mounted Presidential Bodyguard led by Colonel Bhawani Singh, began from Rashtrapati Bhawan after Kalam arrived at the presidential palace in his new black bandgala a few minutes before 0940 IST.
At 0945, President K R Narayanan accompanied by Kalam arrived at the main entrance of Parliament House to be received by Rajya Sabha Chairman Krishan Kant, Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi and Chief Justice of India B N Kirpal.
A majority of Indian Presidents have taken the same route to their swearing-in, except on a couple of occasions, when the oath of office was administered in the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The VVIPs then moved to the Central Hall of Parliament in a formal procession over a red carpet. Behind two slow-marching Presidential Bodyguards walked Joshi and Chief Justice Kirpal, followed by Krishan Kant and Kalam, and at the end, the outgoing President.
In the packed Central Hall, to which Kalam will return many times in the next few years to address joint sessions of Parliament, a slew of India's high and mighty waited for the President-elect.
Rubbing shoulders with them were Kalam's elder brother and a large number of family members who had arrived on Wednesday from Tamil Nadu.
There were also about 100 students, among them a 17-year-old from Anand in Gujarat, Snehal Thakkar, to whom Kalam has dedicated his latest book, Minds ignited.
Also among the invitees was the gardener of the Asiad Village's DDA sports complex, where every morning Kalam used to have his morning walks, talking to flowers, tending to plants and inspiring several fellow morning walkers to take a keen interest in the plants around.
Also present were Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, almost the entire Union Cabinet, former President R Venkataraman, former prime ministers, Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi, senior bureaucrats, a spectrum of Indian politicians, numerous foreign diplomats, and others, including top industrialists.
In a long-winding statement in chaste Hindi, Union Home Secretary Kamal Pandey requested the President of India's permission to notify the result of the recently held presidential election.
With the formality completed, Chief Justice Kirpal administered the oath of office to Kalam.
Kalam took the oath in English, promising in the name of God to uphold and protect the Constitution to the best of his ability.
Narayanan shook hands with Kalam and exchanged seats as the ceremonial 21-gun salute went off outside Parliament House.
Pandey then sought the new President's permission to notify his name in the official gazette, and to intimate the service chiefs, Indian missions, etc.
Kalam's speech in English started with him quoting from a Telugu verse saluting the 'great noble-hearted'. He said he was overwhelmed by the faith the nation had reposed in him.
Despite the nation's tremendous growth in the past 50 years, he said, a large number of Indians continue to remain below the poverty line, while others are deprived of basic facilities such as education.
India, he said, should seek to become like the perfect nation defined in Thirukkural, the ancient Tamil discourse.
Pointing out that India is facing threats from cross-border terrorism and internal conflicts, Kalam said there 'must be a vision' to transform India into a developed nation.
There is an immediate need, he said, for a national movement to "ignite minds". He quoted Kabir to call on Indians to 'do today what you want to do tomorrow, do now what you want to do today'.
He asserted he had an "unflinching commitment to secularism" and said his efforts would be to make India strong and self-reliant.
He said it was a crime to have small dreams and read out the Song of Youth that he has been reciting at schools that he has been visiting over the past couple of years.
Vice-President Krishan Kant read out the Hindi translation of Kalam's speech.
Later, the new President and his predecessor were escorted back to Rashtrapati Bhawan in the limousine along a road lined by 1,000 soldiers - 700 from the army, 150 each from the air force and the navy. They offered the new President ceremonial salutes all the way from Parliament House to Raisina Hill.
Tailpiece: The official gazette notification will refer to the President as Sri A P J Abdul Kalam, not Dr Abdul Kalam, since his doctorate is honorary.
Kalam sworn in as President
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