Ram Nath Kovind, center, gestures as he leaves his residence in New Delhi on June 20, 2017.
New Delhi (CNN)A relatively unknown political operator and member of India's lowest Dalit caste has been elected as the country's 14th president.
Ram Nath Kovind, who until recently was governor of the eastern state of Bihar, won an overwhelming majority to beat opposition Congress party candidate, Meira Kumar, a former parliament speaker and also a member of the Dalit community.Kovind secured 2,930 votes in a secret nationwide ballot involving near to 5,000 lawmakers from the central parliament and state legislatures. Kumar received 1,844 votes.
The election of 71-year-old Kovind, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate, is widely viewed as part of a strategy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to widen support among India's 200 million-strong Dalit community.
Kovind is the second Dalit to become Indian president, after K. R. Narayanan, in office from 1997 to 2002.
Dalits, who are often referred to as untouchables, occupy the lowest rung on India's caste system.
Traditionally viewed as "impure" the group continues to grapple with persecution and exclusion.
Kovind, a lawyer by training who has practiced in both the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court, has never held popularly elected office and lacks an independent power base. For the last two years he has occupied the governorship of Bihar, a position appointed by the prime minister. He also served as the national spokesman of the BJP between 2010 and 2012.
Ram Nath Kovind delivers a speech in presence of Gujarat Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) members in Gandhinagar, on July 15, 2017.
Though the five-year post is largely ceremonial, Kovind's election will help strengthen Modi's grip on power, say analysts.
"Modi would not like anyone in Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President's House) who can question him, that's why Kovind was picked," said Satish Misra, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, an independent think tank based in Delhi.
Unlike the American president, and in line with other Westminster-style governments, the role of India's president lacks any real executive authority. All decisions taken by the president require the approval of the prime minister and the council of ministers.
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