Catholic bishops have welcomed the election of India's new president and are hopeful he can lead the nation toward peace, development and justice for all. Ram Nath Kovind, nominated by a coalition led by the pro- Hindu ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won more than 65 percent of the votes to be elected to the largely ceremonial role of president, July 20. The BJP presented Ram Nath Kovind, who is considered a leader of the socially oppressed Dalit group (formerly untouchables), as its candidate for president, June 19. Kovind said he would be the representative of the poor and farmers in Raisina Hill, where the 340-room presidential palace is located near to the Indian parliament. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India offers its "prayers for his good health, wisdom and strength" so he might lead the country "toward peace, development and justice for all peoples," said Secretary General Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas in a statement. The bishops pray that "God may assist" Kovind to lead the country as "per the oath of office," and that he will "devote himself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of India," the statement said. The bishops' call to Kovind to uphold the constitution exudes the general air of apprehension from religious minorities that the appointment will present little resistance to the pro-Hindu BJP and their parliamentary majority. Echoing the views of the Catholic bishops, Samuel Jaykumar of the National Council of Churches in India, told ucanews.com he "hopes the new president follows the constitution and retains its values." The presidential election was held on July 17 amid reports of protests and campaigns against growing intolerance and violence based on religion. Hindu vigilante groups and extremists are accused of attacking religious minorities in the name of protecting the cow, a revered animal in Hinduism, and preventing the consumption of beef. Constitutionally, India is secular nation that applies equal respect to all religions. However, hard-line Hindu groups, under the political patronage of the BJP, have been working to create a nation of Hindu hegemony. Some leaders have called for amendments in the constitution to alter the secular character of the nation. Kovind had been earlier embroiled in a controversy when, as a BJP leader in 2010, he said "Islam and Christianity are alien to India." He further suggested people from these religions should not be given social benefits or quotas for government jobs and educational institutions, even if they come from a poor socio-economic backgrounds. Vijayesh Lal, executive director of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, told ucanews.com he hopes the "new president, just as the previous president, will act above party politics."
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The term of the current president Pranab Mukherjee, a nominee of the opposition Congress party, ends on July 24. The president-elect will be sworn in on July 25.