NEW DELHI — Meira Kumar, named June 22 the opposition's nominee for the July 17 presidential election, is a senior Congress and Dalit leader with extensive and varied political experience, and a strong proponent of social justice and equity.
The soft-spoken 72-year-old was the Lok Sabha’s first woman speaker, a former union minister and has held senior organizational positions in the Congress, including the post of general secretary.
Daughter of freedom fighter and former Deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram, Kumar was born March 31, 1945. She studied law and pursued her master's after graduating in arts.
Kumar joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973 but resigned after former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi asked her to contest the Lok Sabha by-election from Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh.
She has been elected to the Lok Sabha five times and from three different constituencies – Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh, Karol Bagh in Delhi and Sasaram in Bihar.
A member of the Dalit community, as union minister for Social Justice and Empowerment in 2004 and again in 2009 she sought to change the mindset against private sector reservations.
Kumar favors deepening social justice rather than providing patronage to weaker sections and is unhappy that caste is "a dominant factor" in Indian society.
In her speeches, Kumar has said that the country's sustainable growth is not possible without ending the centuries-old exclusion of marginalized groups such as scheduled castes and tribes.
She was Congress General Secretary between 1991-92 and 1996-99, and has been a member of the Congress Working Committee, the highest decision-making body of the party.
Kumar was elected speaker of the Lok Sabha in June 2009 and constantly emphasized that members use their time productively.
She has headed several parliamentary delegations, including to the Inter-parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Speakers Conference.
Because her was father a member of the Interim Government in 1946 and the Jawaharlal Nehru cabinet, Kumar as a child met India's first prime minister on many occasions and was "fascinated by his ability to effortlessly connect with the children."
Her interests include writing poems in Hindi, shooting and the preservation of cultural heritage and Indian craft.