NEW DELHI: India’s Narendra Modi was sworn in as prime minister Monday with the strongest mandate of any leader for 30 years, promising to forge a ‘strong and inclusive’ country on a first day that signalled his bold intentions.
The 63-year-old Hindu nationalist broke with tradition and invited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to the ceremony. Sharif hailed a ‘great moment and a great opportunity’ for peace in the region.
The pro-business leader was also expected to reveal a sharply reduced government of 45 members, a cut of 26 from that of his predecessor Manmohan Singh, to try to speed up decision-making and slash India’s notorious bureaucracy.
“Together we will script a glorious future for India,” Modi said in a statement posted on the website of the prime minister shortly after he took the oath in front of President Pranab Mukherjee.
“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,” the statement said.
Ten days after his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the first parliamentary majority since 1984, Modi entered office riding a wave of public support that has obscured his past as a controversial politician tainted by religious violence.
The former teaboy has risen through the ranks of right-wing Hindu organisations and was boycotted by Western nations for a decade over anti-Muslim riots that occurred while he was running his home state of Gujarat in western India in 2002.
He said in his statement that he was elected with ‘a mandate for development, good governance and stability’ - avoiding any reference to the Hindu nationalist plank of his party’s election manifesto.
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.
Figures such as Uma Bharti, a hardliner once expelled from the BJP after accusing the party of abandoning core Hindu concerns, indicated that the religious right would retain some influence.
After a decade of left-leaning Congress party rule, the 63-year-old Modi is expected to move India firmly to the right in the next five years with a mantra of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’.
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