India gets first woman president

July 26, 2007 - 0:0

NEW DELHI (BBC) -- The first woman president of India since it gained independence from British rule 60 years ago took her oath of office in Delhi. Pratibha Patil,72, sworn in as head of state in a ceremony at the Indian parliament.

Mrs. Patil's supporters say her election to the largely ceremonial role will be a boost to millions of Indian women. She succeeds APJ Kalam who urged Indians to transform their country into a fully developed nation by 2020. Mrs. Patil won a comprehensive presidential election victory, mopping up nearly two-thirds of votes cast in state assemblies and in India's parliament. The former governor of the northern Indian state of Rajasthan described her election as ""a victory for the principles which our Indian people uphold"". --------------------------- Surprise candidate The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder, in Delhi, says that while some see her victory as an important step towards gender equality in India, many view it as only a symbolic gesture. Millions of women in India face discrimination and poverty often linked to traditions which require the parents of a bride to pay a large dowry to the family of her eventual husband. Mrs. Patil emerged as a surprise, last-minute candidate after left-wing parties in the Congress-led coalition opposed the Congress Party's first choice. She was backed by Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, but was mocked by opponents and by some sections of India's media. Mrs. Patil has courted controversy, recently telling a Muslim congregation that the veil was introduced to protect their women from Mughal invaders, a comment she later retracted. She also faced allegations that a bank she helped set up gave out cheap loans to her relatives before it folded. The Congress Party has rejected those allegations. The presidency is largely a ceremonial post, but plays a key role with a fragmented electorate often throwing up precariously placed coalition governments.