India crowned Narendra Modi its prime minister on Monday at a glittering event attended by leaders from neighbouring countries, top politicians and holy men, and replete with symbolism and grandeur.
Modi, 63, was sworn in by President Pranab Mukherjee ten days after leading the National Democratic Alliance to a landslide win in the world’s biggest election.
Dressed in a white full sleeve kurta, a beige Nehru jacket and a white pajama, Modi arrived at Rashtrapati Bhawan for the event at 6pm to a roar incongruous to the solemnity of the occasion but underlining the rockstar status that he has achieved over the past few months.
Apart from Modi, a total of 45 ministers, including seven women, were also sworn in.
Modi, a former RSS pracharak who sold tea at a railway station as a young boy, showed no signs of emotion or nerves as he read out the oath of secrecy and signed the register, though there appeared to be genuine warmth in the greetings he exchanged with the president.
“I, Narendra Damodardas Modi, do swear in the name of God that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established.”
The audience of about 5,000 was packed into the magnificent forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhawan, and included Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif – sitting next to outgoing PM Manmohan Singh – Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Nepal PM Sushil Koirala, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former presidents Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil and former PM Deve Gowda.
In a statement on the website of the prime minister’s office, which was under transformation from 5pm onwards and went live after Modi was sworn in, the new PM said, “As we devote ourselves to take India’s development journey to newer heights, we seek your support, blessings and active participation.”
“Together we will script a glorious future for India,” added the 63-year-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.
“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.
Altogether 24 cabinet ministers were sworn in and the list comprised BJP bigwigs such as Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Delhi chief Harsh Vardhan as well as former Union minister Maneka Gandhi.
There were also 10 ministers of state with independent charge including former army chief Gen VK Singh and BJP MPs Santosh Gangwar, Prakash Javadekar and Piyush Goyal.
Also, the list of 12 ministers of state included Upendra Kushwaha, Kiran Rijiju and Sanjeev Kumar.
The youngest minister in the Modi government will be 38-year-old Smriti Irani, who once served at a McDonald’s outlet, and the oldest, 74-year old Najma Heptulla, who is the only Muslim in the group.
Ahead of the oath-taking ceremony, Modi had indicated he would not like to have a large cabinet, and that the focus would be on consolidation of portfolios.
Although their exact portfolios were not announced, Sushma Swaraj is expected to become the foreign minister and Arun Jaitley is tipped to be the finance minister.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, blamed by some for the party’s disastrous showing in the polls, found a place only in the second row at the event.
BJP patriarch LK Advani, effectively sidelined by Modi during the campaign, was seated among the foreign dignitaries.
The celebrity roster included actors Salman Khan and Dharmendra and cricketer Sunil Gavaskar. Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar had a front-row view.
Two of India’s richest men, the Ambani brothers, were both in attendance, as were other tycoons Shashi Ruia and Gautam Adani.
White, so beloved of Indian politicians, was the dominant colour, but was interrupted by considerable doses of saffron, the colour of Hindutva.
Modi’s mother, 92-year-old Hiraben, was unwell and couldn’t make the trip, but watched on television from Gandhinagar.
In an interview shortly before Modi’s inauguration, Pakistan PM Sharif said Modi’s arrival in power represented “a great opportunity” for the nuclear-armed rivals to forge a new era in the troubled relationship between the two countries.
“Pakistan wants good relations with India and I am going to New Delhi with a message of peace,” Sharif was quoted as saying by the PTI before he left Pakistan.
Modi and Sharif will have a “short, courtesy” meeting on Tuesday morning and are expected to steer clear of any acrimonious issues leaving long-standing disputes to be tackled in later formal bilateral talks. The Pakistan PM is accompanied by wife Kulsoom Nawaz and son Hussain Nawaz.
Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa also attended the ceremony. Rajapaksa, a nationalistic leader, was among the first leaders to reach out to Modi after election victory. But after an invitation was extended to him, Tamil Nadu erupted in protest.