Indian premier sworn in for historic second term

Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, left, greets after administering oath to Narendra Modi, right, for a second term as India's prime minister during a swearing in ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi on May 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Updated 31 May 2019

Indian premier sworn in for historic second term

  • Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party claimed 303 seats out of 543 in the Lower House, and with his alliance partner he commands the support of 350 parliamentarians
  • Bollywood stars join heads of state as Modi takes oath at gala ceremony

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.


Sri Lanka turns former military air base into third international airport

Updated 18 October 2019

Sri Lanka turns former military air base into third international airport

  • President Sirisena termed the opening of Palaly Airport for commercial flights “a significant landmark of the development program commenced after the conclusion of the conflict.”

COLOMBO: The Palaly Airport, a former military air base, has been turned into Jaffna International Airport, the third gateway to the island.

The new airport was inaugurated by the island’s President, Maithripala Sirisena, while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet ministers also witnessed the ceremony.

The refurbished airport, costing $13.8 million, has a 1,400-meter long runway to facilitate ATR 72 aircraft, which can carry 70 passengers. It will later be expanded to 3,500 meters to handle large passenger aircraft such as the Airbus A320 and A321.

Located approximately 16 km north of Jaffna, Palaly was a Sri Lanka Air Force base and a domestic airport. The airport was built by the British Royal Air Force during the WWII.

After independence, Palaly Airport was used as the second international airport of the country for flights to southern India before the civil war began, almost 40 years ago.

President Sirisena termed the opening of Palaly Airport for commercial flights “a significant landmark of the development program commenced after the conclusion of the conflict.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said the upgraded Jaffna International Airport marked a “turning point” in Sri Lankan aviation, which would be “an asset for the entire nation.”

“The airport will deploy regional airliners and be elevated to an Asian travel destination,” the premier said.

“The airport, which is expected to accommodate direct flights between Sri Lanka and India, will contribute toward promoting the tourism industry in the north. This will play an important role in the economic growth and overall development of the country,” he added.  

The service will be made available first for Indian destinations, and later for flights to Australia, China, Japan, the Middle East and some European cities.                                                      

Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Arjuna Ranatunga said Palaly airport was developed into Jaffna International Airport in a very short period of time.

“We were able to overcome the challenge successfully due to the sincere assistance we received from all institutes and stakeholders contributed to the development,” he said.

The minister said that in addition to Colombo and Jaffna international airports, three more airports in Sri Lanka will be upgraded to international airports, such as Ratmalana and Batticaloa.

“The opening of Jaffna airport for regional scheduled commercial passenger operations will undoubtedly enhance the quality of life of people in the area, with improved connectivity and accessibility that the airport brings to the region. It would also help reduce the current congestion at Bandaranaike International Airport and also eliminate the difficulties of the people in the north have in coming to Colombo Airport,” said H. M. C.Nimalsiri, director general of civil aviation.