Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was formally sworn in Thursday, May 29th for a second straight term in office, following a landslide victory in national elections that cemented his grip on power in the world’s largest democracy.
He took his oath of office for the second time at New Delhi’s imposing Presidential Palace, known here as the Rashtrapati Bhavan, along with several members of his new council of ministers.
Modi, his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their allies won a total of 349 seats out of 545 in the Parliament’s lower house earlier this month. The resounding win followed a seven-week long election that saw the Prime Minister adopt an increasingly nationalist posture — a marked departure from the focus on economic reform during his first campaign back in 2014.
The result defied even the most optimistic predictions by BJP supporters. Modi is the first Indian leader since the 1970s to secure a second straight term with a clear parliamentary majority.
Modi’s new team includes Amit Shah, his closest political ally and the BJP party president credited with engineering the party’s electoral wins, who makes a formal entry into government with his appointment as a minister. Another new entrant, S Jaishankar, a former top civil servant in India’s foreign ministry, was also sworn in as a minister.
Security remained tight around the massive presidential mansion in New Delhi, as national leaders and other dignitaries arrived. In a clear sign of the magnitude of Mr. Modi’s victory — his Bharatiya Janata Party was the first in more than three decades to win a clear majority in consecutive elections — officials said that his swearing-in was the largest event ever held on the mansion’s 300-acre grounds.
The guest list at the two-hour ceremony struck a balance between the ascent of Mr. Modi’s party as the country’s dominant political force, and Mr. Modi’s ambitions of projecting India as a global power, particularly in a region where China has made deep inroads. The list of foreign leaders indicated that Modi would continue to focus on “neighbors first”: It included leaders from Bhutan, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Modi’s latest election campaign was dogged with questions on his government’s poor economic performance and the agrarian crisis that has been unfolding across the country.
Analysts say economic policy will be an important area to watch as Modi begins his new term, after a campaign dominated by talk of Hindu nationalism that made many minorities and secular liberals nervous.
“On one hand, I do believe they are likely committed to turning around the macroeconomic indicators in this country, but on the other hand can they resist the populist tendencies that naturally comes with this kind of mandate and the electoral pressures that exist?” said Neelanjan Sircar, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research.
“It is very hard for a government to do something that is not electorally popular and paradoxically when you have a mandate like this it is even harder,” he added.
The BJP picked up 303 seats in the elections, a jump from 282 five years ago. The principal opposition Congress Party led by Rahul Gandhi, which suffered its worst-ever defeat in 2014, only marginally improved its strength in parliament, raising questions about the leadership of what was once seen as the natural party of government.