NEW DELHI: A ceremony involving military bands, Hindu holy men and a vegetarian high tea was laid on at the president’s mansion on Monday for Narendra Modi’s swearing-in as prime minister of the world’s largest democracy.
Modi and his ministers took their oaths at Rashtrapati Bhavan, a colonial-era sandstone mansion with 340 rooms in the heart of New Delhi.
Around 4,000 guests were invited, ranging from members of India’s outgoing Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to top industrialists, Bollywood actors and the leaders of India’s neighbours - including Pakistan.
India’s swearing-in ceremonies traditionally take place in the mansion’s former ballroom, but Modi and his ministers took their oaths at an open-air event in its sweeping forecourt, in order to accommodate the unusually big audience.
The forecourt, covered in red carpets for the event, was heavily guarded with snipers on the rooftops of the mansion and some of the surrounding buildings. Military bands played bagpipes at the mansion’s entrance.
Modi’s critics accuse of him of harbouring Hindu supremacist views but since winning the election 10 days ago he has taken steps widely viewed as inclusive, such as inviting the prime minister of Pakistan, a Muslim neighbour against whom India has fought three wars.
Those in the crowd at the early evening ceremony included Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a Hindu guru popular with India’s middle class, and Salman Khan, a Bollywood action hero.
Modi arrived on time - an unusual occurrence for an Indian politician - in a grey SUV, impeccably dressed in a beige waistcoat over a long white shirt. During the 90-minute-long ceremony, BJP workers at the party’s nearby national headquarters set off fireworks in celebration.
As per tradition, the president’s office was only due to disclose which ministers would run which ministries after the ceremony. Modi is a highly private figure and even senior party leaders have been kept in the dark about his plans, prompting a week of frantic guessing games in Delhi’s political circles.
Rashtrapati Bhavan took eight years to build and was completed in 1929. It was designed as a home for the colonial viceroys of India by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the British architect who designed much of New Delhi’s wide avenues and elegant bungalows.
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