NEW DELHI: After a historic election win, Narendra Modi was sworn in as prime minister of India for a second time at a gala ceremony on Thursday attended by more than 8,000 national and international dignitaries.
The 68-year-old Modi became the first prime minister in 50 years to return to power with a full majority following his landslide election victory.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed 303 seats out of 543 in the Lower House, and with his alliance partner he commands the support of 350 parliamentarians.
The glittering ceremony took place against the backdrop of a 120-year-old, British-era presidential palace that was lavishly decorated for the occasion.
More than 50 ministers also took the oath of office alongside Modi.
The Cabinet remains largely the same as the previous term. However, the inclusion of Amit Shah, president of the BJP, as the Cabinet number two is a major surprise.
Shah, a close confidant of Modi, is known for his organizational abilities and is credited for expanding BJP’s presence around India. He was a minister in the western state of Gujarat during Modi’s 12-year period as chief minister.
The inclusion of former foreign secretary S. Jaishankar — widely tipped to be the next foreign minister — also caused surprise.
Heads of state from South and Southeast Asia were among guests at the ceremony. Several top industrialists and Bollywood stars also attended the function.
In 2014, Modi invited heads of state from the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation, along with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to the inaugural ceremony.
However, this time the BJP leader invited leaders from BIMSTEK (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), a little-known grouping of seven nations of South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, Myanmar President U Win Myint, Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov were present at the hour-long ceremony.
Political analysts said that the exclusion of the Pakistani leadership from the guest list was not surprising considering the recent bitterness between the two nations following the killing of 50 troops in a terror attack in Indian-held Kashmir.
“By holding such a grand ceremony Modi wants to send a message that India is rising and seeking its place in the global space,” Satish Mishra, of New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation, said.
“Modi’s decision to ignore Pakistan shows he wants to redefine the concept of neighborhood. It also fits with his politics of muscular nationalism. He built his whole electoral narrative on Pakistan. So making a sudden U-turn after the election would not have sent a positive message to his supporters,” Mishra said.
The swearing in ceremony “is aimed at presenting Modi as a larger-than-life character,” he said. “Modi gives the impression of an imperial ruler through this kind of grandiose event.”
Referring to the selection of Cabinet ministers, Mishra said that “Modi’s party suffers from lack of talent and there is a certain anti-intellectualism in the way people are chosen.”
“The last government was all about Narendra Modi and all the ministries were subservient to the Prime Minister’s Office. It will be interesting to see if Cabinet ministers wield real authority this time or not,” Mishra said.