Narendra Modi was sworn in as India’s 15th prime minister in an elaborate ceremony at the resplendent presidential palace on Monday, after a sweeping election victory that ended two terms of rule by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
Millions of Indians watched the inauguration live on television as the 63-year-old Hindu nationalist leader took oath of office along with his cabinet members in the palace’s forecourt.
The low-caste son of a tea stall-owner, Modi has given India its first parliamentary majority after 25 years of coalition governments, which means he has ample room to advance reforms which started over two decades ago but have stalled in recent years.
Invited to his swearing-in ceremony were a host of leaders from across South Asia, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who arrived at the ceremony hailing a “great moment and a great opportunity” for peace in the region.
Soon after his oath, Modi said the election had delivered a mandate for “development, good governance and stability” “ – avoiding any reference to the Hindu nationalist plank of his party’s election manifesto.
In a message released on a revamped website of the Indian prime minister, he said, “Together we will script a glorious future for India. Let us together dream of a strong, developed and inclusive India that actively engages with the global community to strengthen the cause of world peace and development.”
Pro-business Modi unveiled a sharply reduced government of 46 members including seven women, a cut of 25 from that of his predecessor Manmohan Singh, to speed up decision-making and slash India’s notorious bureaucracy.
Senior members in his government are Arun Jaitley, tipped as finance minister, Sushma Swaraj, likely to be foreign minister, and Rajnath Singh, who is lined up for the home portfolio.
The inclusion of figures such as Uma Bharti, a hardliner once expelled from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after accusing the party of abandoning core Hindu concerns, indicated that the religious right would retain some influence.
PM Nawaz at the ceremony
PM Nawaz sat among other leaders of South Asia at the ceremony. Modi had a warm and cordial handshake with the prime minister after the oath-taking.
In a brief chat with some Indian news channels, PM Nawaz said he would, in his bilateral meeting today (Tuesday), assure Modi that the 26/11 trial would be speeded up.
He told Headlines Today news channel that Pakistan favours resumption of dialogue, not necessarily the composite dialogue structure. He also said he would not meet the separatist Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders during this visit and will seek to upgrade bilateral talks above secretary level.
Modi’s decision to invite PM Sharif for his inauguration and bilateral talks today came as a surprise and raised hopes for a thaw in relations between the rivalling neighbours.
Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena, which is viscerally opposed to Pakistan, not only participated in the oath-taking ceremony but permitted its only ministerial candidate, Anant Geete, to take oath. After a decade of left-leaning Congress party rule, Modi is expected to move India firmly to the right in the next five years with a mantra of “minimum government, maximum governance”.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2014.