His wasn't the name that newspaper readers were familiar with or the face that television viewers knew. Today, Ram Nath Kovind walked away from that quiet past - and into the record books as India's president-elect. The former Bihar governor and old BJP hand, described variously as low profile, unassuming and affable, had an easy win to the country's highest constitutional post, securing more than 65 per cent of the votes in the electoral college.
As celebrations broke out in his ancestral home in Paraunkh village in Uttar Pradesh's Kanpur Dehat, the 71-year-old Kovind became the first BJP member and only the second Dalit to be elected to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Stepping away from quietude to the spotlight of constant scrutiny that comes with being the country's first citizen, he was picked for the job by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from Raj Bhavan in Patna, where he had struck an easy working relationship with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
It was perhaps Kovind's non-confrontational approach to politics that led the JD(U) chief to back him for the president's office even though he had been critical of his appointment as the governor, but later it led to the curious situation of the party endorsing the opposition's candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi for the vice president's post.
This easy demeanour has stood the Kanpur-born former lawyer in good stead, say political watchers. He is not just a Dalit leader, but is known for his organizational skills and is a loyal member of the BJP, attributes that not many in the larger NDA family can boast of.
Names of several presidential probables from the NDA stable had done the rounds, but Kovind, a former national spokesperson of the party, was not among them. While the choice surprised political watchers, it was seen as an astute move for a party working overtime to expand its social base and win over new constituencies. And one that has delivered dividends.
Kovind is married and has a son and a daughter. It was a measure of his public persona that though his wife Savita was by his side during the weeks of campaigning, his children were not seen much or written about.
BJP chief Amit Shah said the party's parliamentary board went through a long list of potential candidates before choosing Kovind, who was its MP in Rajya Sabha for two terms and headed its Dalit Morcha.
Kovind's links to the party's controversial Hindutva politics are tenuous. Sources say he was drawn more to the politics of social empowerment of Dalits and other weaker sections than the plank of religion.
Kovind, a commerce graduate who also studied law at Kanpur University, practised in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court. He was also the central government's standing counsel in the apex court from 1980-93. His official profile on the Bihar governor's website describes him as a crusader for "rights and cause of weaker sections of society specially Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes/OBC/ minority..." from his student days.
The BJP has been seeking to widen its base beyond its traditional constituencies of upper castes and trading classes and has succeeded to a large extent, as seen in the UP assembly polls. Kovind, who headed Dalit Morcha from 1998 to 2002, also led the All-India Koli Samaj. Elected to the Rajya Sabha in April 1994 from Uttar Pradesh, he served two consecutive terms till March 2006. He joined a stir by SC/ST employees in 1997 when Dalits and others protested against orders issued by the Central government, which were rescinded by Atal Bihari Vajpayee when the NDA came to power.
As an advocate, Kovind took the lead in providing free legal aid to weaker sections, especially the SC/ST women, and poor and needy girls under the aegis of the Free Legal Aid Society in Delhi.
Known for his work in the field of education, he served as a member on the board of management of the Dr BR Ambedkar University, Lucknow, and was a member of the board of governors of the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata. India's 14th president will take oath on July 25, when he will take over from veteran politician Pranab Mukherjee.